The Portuguese have an untranslatable word for the ineffable nostalgia of something that has passed away and perhaps never was: saudade.

Later, I came across another reference to a similar concept (also in a Paris Review article):


It’s pronounced “here-eyeth” (roll the “r”) and it’s a Welsh word. It has no exact cognate in English. The best we can do is “homesickness,” but that’s like the difference between hardwood and laminate. Homesickness is hiraeth-lite.

It’s a feeling I know well and which English lacks a good word for (and I’m not sure stealing from Portugal or Wales will resolve that lack).

When I read The Sun Also Rises, I was overwhelmed with a homesickness for a place and time I never knew, a mythical 1920s of high modernism. Of course, I was also a teenager, so I didn’t properly understand the sarcasm, satire, and self-loathing that drove the novel, or else I should not have felt saudade nor hiraeth.

More saudade, I suspect. Hiraeth is something more for my mother, a southerner who will never, despite her accent, fit properly in the South (with its desperate poverty and structural racism and the veneer which covers it up and makes believe we have moved past it in much of the ‘New South’), nor feel at home anywhere else (perhaps not surprising that she settled into Florida, which is neither here nor there).

I wonder if they are all myths. I think perhaps I have even lived through such times myself, but they are invariably disappointing to live through and unnoticed by the participants, who are merely getting by like everyone else and wishing to have been alive in the New York of the Abstract Expressionists or the Bay Area of the San Francisco Renaissance or even the pastoral delights of the Transcendentalists of the 1840s.

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