I was born in Wales, in a small town called Llanrwst. I'm not really properly Welsh (although my middle name is Haf), but I can still feel 'hiraeth'.
|River Conwy at Llanrwst. Source: wikimedia|
Hiraeth is a particularly, peculiarly, Welsh feeling. And it's very hard to translate. It's sort of yearning. It's sort of nostalgia. It's sort of a sweet melancholy. It's the natural landscape - the mountains and the sea - calling, and it's the longing in response.
|Llanrwst. Source: wikimedia|
In my quest for expressions of nostalgia (my new research project - alongside the misbehaving students thing), 'hiraeth' is a really interesting concept. It's related to, but not cognate with, Portuguese 'saudade', German 'Heimweh' and so on. The origins of nostalgia as a term lie in the eighteenth century, at which point it indicated a medical condition suffered by those far from home. Only really in the nineteenth century did nostalgia become a temporal condition, as one looked back to the good old days. 'Hiraeth' is all of these things, as well as a more rooted bitter-sweetness. It works well in the context of the Welsh diaspora - for instance, there's a wonderful project in Patagonia by the Welsh community there (see here). But it can also be felt at home in Wales. And if it's a yearning, it's also a comfort.
|Llanrwst: source (http://www.deviantart.com/art/Almshouses-and-back-of-Eagles-Hotel-Llanrwst-408160317). The picture is taken from the Churchyard. We lived in the house on the left; my godparents lived in the house on the right.|
This song, by the gentle-voiced Max Boyce, accompanied by Christine Cooper and an amazing triple-harpist, Llio Rhydderch, expresses 'hiraeth' more sweetly and its comfort more eloquently than prose. It's like a mist stealing over one, a gentle companion. And, in this, it's a very special form of nostalgia. Nostalgia looks like a feeling rooted in time (is it really?) - 'hiraeth' transcends time - as the song tells us, it never fades.