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