By Carl Llewellyn

“Hiraeth” is a word in the Welsh language that expresses a profundity of emotion. When translating words from one language into another, some words or expressions are difficult to transpose. When describing “Hiraeth”, to me it encompasses a variety of expressions – yearning, carving, longing, homesickness etc., but the word I believe in the context of the song refers to “Longing”, depicting the consciousness of a person being away from their home and that which is dear to them. That is why it is felt deeply among Welsh exiles living abroad.

“Hiraeth” is one of the musical items in Dowlais Male Choir’s repertoire. Although the song is usually accompanied by piano, on occasions the choir have been fortunate to have the accompaniment of a harp, and to me this combination encapsulates the depth of feeling of the song’s expression.

Harpist Eve Price accompanied the choir during their performance of Hiraeth at the 50th Anniversary concert in September 2015.

Harpist Eve Price accompanied the choir during their performance of Hiraeth at the 50th Anniversary concert in September 2015.

 

The words originated from a 17th century Welsh poem, as follows: -

What is longing made from?

What cloth is put into it

That is does not wear out with use?

Gold wears out, and silver wears out,

Velvet wears out, and silk wears out,

Yet longing does not wear out.

The moon rises and the sun rises,

The sea rises in vast waves,

But longing is never raised from the heart.”

 

In the lyrics of the song sung by Dowlais Male Choir, a question is posed to the great men of wisdom and knowledge (Namely the Bards):

“Why does longing not wear out”

My interpretation of the sentiment questions great men of knowledge, to explain the connotation of “Hiraeth” and why the expression never fades. Despite such precious metals of gold and silver, with garments of velvet and silk that will deteriorate, the emotion of longing never leaves us.

Tell me Great ones of Knowledge

from what is longing made!

What use is it

Where does it end, when does it wear out

Gold wears out, Silver wears out,

Velvet wears out, Satin wears out,

Every garment’s  splendour  wears out,

Yet despite this truth, “Longing” does not wear out

There great longing and there is cruel longing

it is longing which breaks my heart

When night comes and I’m in my deepest slumber,

Longing arrives to wakes me.


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