Purpose: To enlighten my readers on the word fernweh, which I have used at least twice without any explanation of its meaning.
Fernweh is a German word, and its meaning requires a little explanation as it does not translate very comfortably into English. Fern means “far” and weh means “ache” or “pain.” Fernweh describes the painful wish to travel in far places, especially when doing so is impossible. It does not merely describe the desire for adventure, which is what wanderlust, “wander-desire,” is for. Fernweh is the ache felt when one is prohibited from wandering; it is a “goading restlessness,”1 the longing to be some place else. Fernweh is the opposite of homesickness—it is away-sickness.
When I used fernweh in “A Light on the Road,” I described it as “less a desire to discover and more a longing to find.” Because fernweh is an aching to be away, not in search of new things for the sake of their novelty, but simply for the joy of being absent from home, one has to go in search of it. It is not a desire to discover something new, it is a longing to find the satisfaction of something one has already experienced.
Image: Yearning for the Homeland, Tadeusz Popiel, circa 1913
1Daniel G. Brinton, The Basis of Social Relations
3 thoughts on “On “Fernweh””
Thank you, Nicole. Honest to goodness, thank you. You have found a word that perfectly describes what I’ve been feeling so much lately. I just want to go. (Imagine that ‘go’ is italicized.) I’ve literally been describing it as “a home-sickness for somewhere out there” but this word works so much better 🙂
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Yes, it does. I find it funny that, although English has borrowed so many of its words from other languages, it still lacks precise words like “fernweh.”
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What a beautiful word! You described “fernweh” as being the opposite of homesickness, but then said it was the longing for something one has already experienced. Do you think it could also be defined as “true homesickness” — as a longing for a truer home than the one we currently live in? The same longing that is expressed in “The Road Home” and the Elves’ songs of Valinor, the longing that I’ve felt so many times? Or do you think fernweh is akin to this longing, but is a bit different?