Tag Archives: england

Fernweh, homesickness, and the ever-elusive Here-and-Now

The Germans have some smashing words, Fernweh being one of them. Fern = far away, distant, and Weh = pain or woe. It means that you’re homesick for a place you haven’t necessarily been. Very Sturm und Drang.

I experience something similar, or in between, with England and Wales. Neither of them is my country, and yet… Gah. If Britain were a person, it would be “the one that got away”. It’s always there, like an evil siren, pretending to be something it’s not. Calling to me with memories whose silver nitrate sheen has nothing to do with truth. I know my image of the place is very different from the reality of living there, but there’s no accounting for childhood impressions. You feel what you feel.

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But I can also get homesick for the place I actually am. Filled with yearning for the present moment. When something is so overwhelmingly good in a banal sort of way, and yet impossible to handle or reach or know what to do with, because feelings are unwieldy beasts and my brain is too small for their limitless nature. How many times have I asked myself when I’ve actually been in England or Wales, “How do you wrap a whole country in your arms? How do you hug this sceptered fucking isle?” And the answer, of course, is that you don’t. You can’t. A country is vast, and you are small. We’re not built for it.

Except… we are. Humans, for all their flaws, have one redeeming feature: artistic expression. Through this one divine spark, we can touch something like the truth.

Which brings me to this little gif. I know posting it borders on creepiness, since it depicts such vulnerability. But it’s also the perfect illustration for what I’m trying to say in this post. How do you embrace something that’s a thousand times bigger than you? The only way is through music, through writing, through art. You don’t try to hold it for longer than it takes you to play it, describe it, or paint it. You accept it, and let it wreak its havoc with you because really, there’s no alternative unless you want an ulcer. Life is a fleeting moment of euphoric dread. Those who feel it deeply can touch fingertips through the very best of us who have the gift to make it tangible.

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”Is it not strange that sheep’s guts should hale souls out of men’s bodies?” (Much Ado About Nothing, 2.iii).

In this case it’s Sibelius who provokes the reaction, but for me it’s always Elgar. The man whose auditive paintbrush is dipped not in the darkness of a Finnish forest, but in the misty green of rolling English hills. Who somehow looked into my soul before I was born and wrote the music that described my homesickness for a place I can never call mine.

And they say INTPs are emotionless machines!

I’ve written a few songs myself that try to embrace the full scope of the heart-bursting present. Some of them about England, others about peope – and this is one of them: Next Year Jerusalem. The inspiration for it came from a group of students I taught French. I don’t think they ever knew the impression they made on me. How they were the reason I got up in the morning.

Because INTPs are good at pretending to be emotionless machines…

Next year Jerusalem
we will not die
’til we’re through with life
Here on the other side
skies are bright
and breathing light

Sweet Jesus
I never thought I’d see the day
Sweet baby
you have saved me

This is where we ended up
This is where we’ll drain the cup
This the fountain of youth
Maybe we were meant to be
Straying in the wrong alley
only to see
that we are essentially free

Next year Jerusalem
we have time
even though we’re dying
We’re on the road today
here we’ll stay
’til we’re ta’en away

Somehow we found
water from the holy land
flowing like wine
through the desert sand

This is where we ended up…