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the language of longing

I stood looking out at the distant hill. I did not see the jumble of old suburbia inbetween me and the faraway slant of pine trees. I did not even really see the trees themselves. Just beyond that hill was a pallid ocean. And something else. A memory, a desire, a calling forth or reaching back ...

We need a word for this, I thought at the time. A word for the ache of distances - spacial distances, temporal ones. English is such an earthy, practical, bull-headed language. We have nothing like toska, saudade, hiraeth. No specificities for the beautiful pain of yearning. Ours is a language of farmers and warriors. It does not easily sing us outside of ourselves.

Or perhaps I simply know English too well. With familiarity comes a loss of the spirit of loneliness, and of groping towards something that is at once precise and insubstantial ...

For that matter, do we even have a term for the poignant, dream-inspired groping through silence? For the wish to pinpoint an exact word and yet the fear that we will, thereby turning magic into something mundane?

I took a photograph of the distant hill. Later, I deleted it. I'd only managed to capture trees, ocean, suburban rootftops tangled amongst bushes and streets. The sense of it ... the sigh from my heart, and perhaps from the hill itself, looking back at me ... the fragments of books once read, and childhood afternoons at the edge of school holidays, and the smell of pine, and the memory of the sea breathing on me, and the love of the soft-coloured sorrow that made a space between me and the hill, me and who I used to be ... none of this could be captured in imagery any more than it could in a word. And that felt right. To codify the longing, the love, would take away its meaning.


  1. Ahhh, toska! I'd forgotten all about that word. I discovered it a few years ago when I was deep into my Russian literature phase. Did you ever read Nabakov's extended definition of it?

    The beauty of your post is that I don't even need to see the photo, because your words and the white space surrounding them bring me to my own place of longing. Funny that, since we are half a world apart. Yet perhaps our longings (my imagination and your experience) are greeting each other right now. :)

    Thank you, Sarah, for your (almost) daily weblog posts. I always look forward to reading here, wondering where you will take me within myself.

    1. Yes, I have read his definition. Really, is there anyone quite like Nabokov? Sigh.

      I love hearing from someone else who went deep into a Russian literature phase. I had my own, concurrent with my Russian history phase. But then I have a special love for that beautiful country, inspired by the childhood belief that my name was Russian. (Turns out its not, its French, which is funny because I have no love for France at all.)

      Thank you for your kind words. I love to write here daily, it helps me breathe to have somewhere to lay down my words.

  2. you have a way with words
    that inspires deep feelings, bringing magic to the mundane and stirs vitality in my heart
    so perhaps we do not need one word for such a richness of feelings
    just a word magician such as yourself

  3. With your beautiful words, a photo would just be secondary. You always paint the most exquisite picture with what you say. Thank you.

  4. So so true. So beautifully written.

  5. I read your posts every morning and they soothe me. The way you use language is somehow not of this world it seems to seep into my very bones and I am eternally grateful I found your blog - it is my inspiration to try harder and visit the inner workings of my mind to express how I feel. Thank you.

  6. Thank you everyone, your comments are so appreciated.

  7. your writing is utterly perfect, sarah <3

  8. Wow. In a few short paragraphs you've left me breathless. I think you've captured the feeling, the look, the longing, far better in words than a photograph ever could. Thank you for this.


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