One thing I love about the German language is how expressive it is. The standard joke is if there isn’t a word for something in German, just take three or four different words and smash them together to make one. Or, if you want a very specific word for a very specific thing, you can smash together a bunch words to come up with something like Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän. (That’s a real thing. Look it up.)
Recently, as I’ve been winding down my time at BYU, I have fallen into a rather singular emotional state. I can’t really describe it adequately in English, so I’ll revert to German.
I’ve recently been suffering from a bad bout of what the Germans call Lebensmüdigkeit. What does this mean? It literally translates as “life tiredness,” and is slippery to nail down in English. It’s not quite depression (I’m not sad), or exhaustion (I’m have energy), or anything like that, although it can be paired with those and other near-synonyms. It’s also not really being “tired of life” in a suicidal sense (no need to call a suicide hotline, I promise), although, again, it can be linked with that. I’d say it’s more like resignation mixed with frustration at not seeing progress or changes one’s life that one wants to see happen. In my estimation it’s more like being tired with one’s circumstances in life than life itself, although one may understandably take the implications of meaning all the way.
Of course, when one suffers from Lebensmüdigkeit, that almost naturally drives one to foster Sehnsucht in one’s breast. This one’s a little easier to nail down. Typically translated as “longing” or “yearning,” it has been defined by Wikipedia thusly:
Sehnsucht represents thoughts and feelings about all facets of life that are unfinished or imperfect, paired with a yearning for ideal alternative experiences. It has been referred to as “life’s longings”; or an individual’s search for happiness while coping with the reality of unattainable wishes. Such feelings are usually profound, and tend to be accompanied by both positive and negative feelings. This produces what has often been described as an ambiguous emotional occurrence.
A casual glance at the standard canon of Lieder (as performed by the incomparable Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, for example) will reveal no less than 7 songs from the Romantics either titled simply “Sehnsucht” or containing the word as a compound element. Here, for example, is Schiller’s poem “Ach, aus dieses Tales Gründen,” set to music by Schubert and titled simply “Sehnsucht.”
This is an excellent poetic summary of the feelings associated with Sehnsucht.
Finally, those who experience Sehnsucht for something frequently fall into Wanderlust. This last one has come into English as a loanword, and was even the title for a 2012 film starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd. Literally “hiking desire,” for the Romantics Wanderlust was the impulse to escape into the world and leave behind your old life. It was effectively memorialized with Werther’s openly exclamation:
Wie froh bin ich, daß ich weg bin! Bester Freund, was ist das Herz des Menschen! Dich zu verlassen, den ich so liebe, von dem ich unzertrennlich war, und froh zu sein!
So, how does this all apply to me right now? I can’t really articulate it at this time, actually. Suffice it to say that I’ve grown somewhat frustrated at the stagnancy in my life right now, which makes me yearn for something new and better, which drives me to want to escape Provo and the life I know right now. Thankfully, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Come April I will be done with BYU, done with Provo, and, if all goes well, gearing up for grad school in the fall and working for my sister and brother-in-law during the summer.
Until that happens, though, I am left to reflect these words from Schiller: