|Sehnsucht by Oskar Zwintscher (1870-1916)|
German has some awesome words that we just don't have an equivalent for in English. Like schadenfruede ("the pleasure you get from another's pain or misfortune") and gemütlichkeit ("the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you are cozy, a little drunk, and surrounded by friends,") and weltschmerz ("the misery you feel after too much surfing the Net or watching the news, when you become convinced that the whole world has gone irredeemably to ratshit").
Here's one I found out about recently, and I just love it. Because it describes a feeling I've known since childhood, and never had a way of expressing. In fact because its an unlabelled feeling in English, I didn't actually know anybody else ever experienced it. I thought it was just me.
It's sehnsucht:"a deep yearning for something unknown" or, perhaps, "an ecstatic sense of homesickness for a place never actually visited or known to exist." It's not an actual physical place or object that you pine for so intensely. In fact, it can be hard to know what it is you are craving - just that it is out of reach.
|The "Blaue Blume" is used as a literary symbol of transcendent longing.|
Or this one:
In fact, Tolkien might be the sehnsucht author. His elves are consumed by a bone-deep aching to go West over the sea, to the Undying Lands where they belong.
Tolkien's friend CS Lewis wrote about sehnsucht very consciously. He thought it the strongest and most important drive in his psyche - and eventually equated it with the soul's yearning for God. He described it like this:
"That unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World's End, the opening lines of "Kubla Khan", the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves."For me personally, the sensation (which was ferocious enough during adolescence that it has to have had a hormonal component) is most strongly associated with landscape. When I first visited the wet Atlantic seaboard woodlands of the Lake District I went into emotional meltdown. But I also remember a dell in my primary school playground - just some trees and daffodils and grass - that had the same resonance. Quality of light is also effective: a clear blue evening, especially when the pink cherry blossom has fallen on the spring grass, makes me dizzy. Autumn as a whole does it for me. Paths that lead into woodland do it - in fact there's one a mile from my house that gets me every bloody time.
|It's not this path. But it's a bit like it. And that is sehnsucht in a nutshell...|
O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark, The vacant interstellar spaces,
What started me blogging this? Well, my WiP novella series The Wheel of the Year is inspired in part by my experience of reading Lewis, and I'm going to be exploring emotional themes like sehnsucht, I think. My heroine is going back to a place she knew and loved in childhood, so all the feelings associated with the place and with her growing self are welling up again. Only this time, she has an adult perspective ...
I'm interested to see where this'll go.