Thursday, March 3, 2011


"Hiraeth is a Welsh word that has no direct English translation. Attempts to define it [describe it as] homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed. It is a mix of longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness, and the earnest desire for the Wales of the past."

(based on suggestions from @snazzydee and @realnixwilliams)

No one had heard of feta or sushi.

My family boiled the day in a pot

I listened hard, today I just hear rice

packed soggy 'chow mein' with

saturated pineapple chunks in

And three-bean salad from

a farty tin. Everyone’s aunt

was named after someone from

A Country Practice.

At thirteen, we cemented

her poem by heart. I researched:

Y maent yr mynyddoedd yn canu,

ac y mae’r arglwyddes yn dod.

We brought mountains, sang

this uncommon rising language

in our different accents.

Looked up the double L.

We had mad Welsh knowledge:

A girl, white as rice,

A girl, brown as rivers.

I craved your home's scent, your

easy spiced community.

Struck by Susan Cooper:

iron for our birthdays, bronze carried long

In Nouvelle Calédonie I was

‘la grande blanche’ to my new family:

The big white one; tall and icy.

Three from the circle, three from the track.

I was never la grande blanche

in your house. Sure I was an oddity,

but placed carefully, sistered and mothered.

Fire in the candle ring, water from the thaw.

At thirteen, I had sudden siblings,

infuriating and full of eyebrows.

I can grieve us clearly, I am homesick

for sonic giggles and loud confidence,

nostalgia for the brilliance of our limbs.

We are mothers now and not forgotten:

taller than mountains of children.

What of our bronze babies carried long?

Come here, rice women. We desire singing,

trace silver marks on the tree.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from two peeps:

  • @snazzydee: In honour of St David's day yesterday, I nominate this (a link to the definition of Hiraeth. I'm saying this for my mother who is internetless, so I have to print out my blog and post it to her).
  • @realnixwilliams: Eating delicious food!

Hiraeth is pronounced like this, which sounds a bit like 'here rice' to me, hence my need to include the phrases 'hear rice' and 'here, rice' in the poem. Nerd.

When we were 13, my friend and I read Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising sequence at the same time and adored it (we still adore it). The photo for this post is of my copies of the books (can't find The Grey King! Where isit!). My friend and I both knew the poem off by heart, though I think I was a bit more obsessive because I looked up Welsh pronunciations because it had to be right. She and her family were part of an easy, wide Sri Lankan community in our town that I longed to be part of, big white sensitive doofus that I was/am. And I was a part of it, in a way. Belonging can be colourless.

This poem is what grew up this morning when I thought about hiraeth - my earnest homesickness for community, and the way that strangely enough: Wales is a part of it.


Minna-Liisa said...


In Finnish we have a word "kaiho". I think it's about the same as "hiraeth" in Welsh.

Anna said...

How lovely that there are similar words in different languages! Thanks Minna-Liisa :)

hwc said...

there's also this word, saudade
in portuguese
associated with song types, the fado and morna...very beautiful...

hwc said...

also this one in portuguese...
associated with the song types the morna and fado...very beautiful..

Minna-Liisa said...

I think it's very interesting that there are similar words in different languages. What does it tell that in some languages there are word like hiraeth, saudade or kaiho? What the deepest meanings of those words really are, how much same the meanings really are? Well, I am often thinking too deeply what the words mean :)And I am interested in words considering nostalgia, longing etc. also because of my studides.

By the way, it was weird feeling when I saw the word hiraeth on the topic, I was thinking that it must be something like kaiho. I am not sure if I have heard that word ever before.

nixwilliams said...

i love this & i love susan cooper. <3

nixwilliams said...

by the way, despite loving these books, i never really felt a connection to wales - i much more expected to find it in ireland or scotland. i did love both those places, but wales (when i finally got there) stole my heart utterly.

Anna said...

@hwc and minna-liisa - Do we have a word like this in English? I wonder what it is that is unique to a language/country/culture that they can have a word that says something we can't.

@nixwilliams - I REALLY want to read them all again now. And, thanks :)

nixwilliams said...

i re-read them a year or two ago. *sighs* <3

mademoiselle délicieuse said...

And I long knew you were writing about the girl with the "sonic giggle" before that line in the poem.