Hiraeth for Beginners Hero

Guest blog series - “Hiraeth for Beginners”


Pamela PetroPAMELA PETRO is a writer and artist who first traveled to Wales to attend graduate school at St David's University College (now Trinity-St David's) in Lampeter, in the 1980s. She likens her arrival to the birth of a baby animal: it was as if she were opening her eyes for the first time, and everything around her--the hills and valleys, the sheep, the headlands and the sea, the people and the sound of their language--imprinted on her mind and heart, and became her default landscape and culture.

She writes, "The clarity of components of the Welsh landscape and the way they fit together virtually became the legend of my life. I felt I'd found the key to a map I'd never before been able to read, but without which I had no sense of my place on the planet."

Since grad school Pamela has attend the rigorous Wlpan course for Welsh learners--she speaks Welsh haltingly, with a wing and a prayer--and has visited Wales from her home in Massachusetts nearly once a year. She's written about her language-learning saga in the acclaimed book, Travels in an Old Tongue: Touring the World Speaking Welsh (Flamingo, 1997), and about Wales and the Welsh for publications including The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Post, Islands, and many more.

Pamela Petro is also a visual artist specializing in photographic environmental installations. Her artwork may be viewed at www.petrographs.blogspot.com.

Series introduction

Pamela's series of blog postings is called Hiraeth for Beginners. "Hiraeth,” she says, "is a particularly Welsh emotion. It translates as "homesickness," but there's much more to it than that. If it must be called homesickness, it's a sickness come on--in Welsh ailments come onto you, as if hopping aboard ship--because home isn't the place it was supposed to be. It's a yearning for a past that never was but that nonetheless exists, fully formed, in the collective imagination of the Welsh, and for a future that dances just out of reach. It's a Once-and-Future emotion, and you don't have to leave home to experience it. You can feel it in Wales. In fact, my Welsh friends say that's where it burns the strongest.

Hiraeth is to the Welsh as soil and climate are to fine wines: an integral part of the terroir that makes them who and what they are. An affliction or a gift of home. But hiraeth also speaks for beginners like me: visitors to Wales who fall in love with the place, and spend a good deal of their time ever afterward dreaming of returning and becoming, in some small way, Welsh themselves."

All blog posts

  • Tea time (post 1)
    ...And when I sip it I think of kitchens I’ve inhabited in Wales. One with an ancient Raeburn range and a big picture window overlooking sheep fields; another with a slate floor, fieldstone walls, and a tiny window overlooking blackcurrant brambles.
  • Welsh gold and the royal wedding (post 2)
    ...And that wedding band—the tiniest but most important detail of the whole fabulous, glorious gala—will be, as tradition dictates, made of the rarest and priciest gold on earth: Welsh gold.
  • The weird world of Welsh mutations (post 3)
    ...Their words chop off letters and grow new ones, depending on the situation. It’s an odd habit for a language.
  • Secret gardens of Wales (post 4)
    ...most breathtaking feature is one of the few parapet walks remaining in Britain: a raised, crenellated walkway that allows strollers to look down into a cloistered maze, and then, with a mere shift of the eyes, outward upon parkland and pastures rolling to the horizon.
  • Welsh sheep rule the catwalk (post 5)
    An exhibition called “From Fleece to Fabric” follows wool from a sheep’s back to the shirt on yours.
  • A little encouragement to try coasteering (post 6)
    ...combines beach hiking, rock climbing, cliff jumping, and swimming into sea caves and coves. And sometimes body surfing, too, be it planned or not.
  • Wales’ dynamic mother-daughter duo (post 7)
    It’s not an exaggeration to say that Welsh poet Menna Elfyn is the most-translated, and most widely read, minority language poet in Europe. Her daughter, Fflur Dafydd, is a novelist and singer/songwriter...
  • Wales' magnificent footpaths (post 8)
    In a year’s time you’ll be able to walk all the way around Wales… I wonder how many pairs of hiking boots it would require?
  • Stay at Dylan's (post 9)
    So let’s say Dylan’s youthful legend will turn 100 in three years. Thinking of celebrating? He’d probably like that. As it happens, in addition to picking up the Collected Poems, you can turn your Dylan tribute into a vacation in Wales.
  • Wales: a foodie's paradise (post 10)
    Mid Wales, for instance, has a wealth of salmon; black beef and venison; specialist crops including lettuces, heirloom tomatoes, peas, beans, cucumbers, and leeks; and foraged specialties from wild garlic and elderflowers to deep blue whinberries.
  • An interview with the National Poet for Wales (post 11)
    …Welsh culture is immensely encouraging to writers, especially poets. Poetry is the national art, a tradition going back to the 6th century…
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Aerial Archaeology in Wales (post 12)
    As a long-lived-in landscape—the human imprint on the Welsh countryside has been millennia in the making...
  • The wonderful world of Welsh plants (post 13)
    …I find a great many common weeds very appetizing.
  • An interview with Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis (post 14)
    Your words famously grace the facade of Cardiff's Wales Millennium Centre…
  • Coastal walking in Wales; just a stone's throw from London (post 15)
    I spent five days walking with The Wayfarers, a splendid hiking tour company, on the coastal trails of Pembrokeshire...