Weltschmerz

Do you remember Thirty Days to A More Powerful Vocabulary? 

 

 

This tiny book was part of our curriculum in sixth grade (thank you New Jersey public schools). From a mere fifteen minutes a day, it promised, we could “dramatically increase” our “opportunity for success” by following their guide.

 

In sixth grade, adulthood success seemed far away. But I was captivated by their chapter on the “romance of words.”  Words are like living trees, they wrote. “They have roots, branches, and leaves.”  I was smitten.

 

I think of that little book from time to time, particularly when a certain obscure word crosses my path. And so it was recently, when that word came once again to mind. The word?

Weltschmerz

It’s a German noun, hence I’ve capitalized it, and is defined generally as “a feeling of melancholy and world-weariness.”

 

And yes, I’ve been wondering if this is what I’m experiencing of late. Have you felt it too?

Weltschmerz has a long literary history, according to Wikipedia, that “denotes a deep sadness about the inadequacy or imperfection of the world (tiefe Traurigkeit über die Unzulänglichkeit der Welt).”

 

Wiki goes on to mention modern American writers who have used the word, among them Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer), John Steinbeck (East of Eden), Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man), and Kurt Vonnegut (Player Piano).

Then I found this quote from the opening of a 2016 book The Soul Dick: An American Romance by Em L. Smith. [I haven’t read it; I just found the quote.]
Weltschmerz, basically, is the depression we feel when bamboozlers, fanatics, manipulators, trolls, bigots, demagogues, fear-mongers, liars and prigs threaten to take over the world, and there’s nothing, we think, we can do about it. 

 

So, fine; it’s a real word, one that has settled in my head of late.

Weltschmerz

What is “world-weary” anyway? I’m not weary of the world.

Or am I? Perhaps this state has become so normal to me, I no longer recognize it as out of the ordinary.

Is it like those people with chronic winter colds? Has this “deep sadness about the imperfection of the world” become a new normal for me?

 

original woodprint by Charles Barsotti

 

I’ve had my flu shot; pity I can’t get a Weltschmerz shot.

Let’s look at my symptoms.

I fear that the world as I once knew it does not exist; that our land of the free, home of the brave, is filled with cowards, sycophants, and sheep.

I fear that our “We the people” I once so believed in, can no longer be trusted to do the right thing.

I fear that Lincoln’s “Of the people, by the people, and for the people,” is now a cause for deep derision.

I fear that this country I so believed in, never actually existed. It was all some Truman Show fiction, in which “We accept the reality with which we’re presented.”

 

 

 

Did our “shining light upon the hill” shine only for particular folk? Were those “huddled masses yearning to be free” admitted only as long as we had land to settle and farm or factory jobs to fill?

My naïveté is not something I’m particularly eager to own. Yet, there it is. I don’t know.

When I pay close attention, I realize I’ve been holding my breath, waiting to see if my ship of state will right itself or will continue to tip, eventually sinking into the deep.  Is that Weltschmerz?

How about you? Does it ring true with you as well? What are your symptoms? Or are we, as is often the case with this word, a bit premature; perhaps even adolescent? 

 

NEXT WEEK: How I’m coping, day to day.

 

Interested in getting your own copy of 30-Days?  Here’s the Amazon link (I’m in their affiliates program so I thank you).  

 

[box] LEAPFROG, my tiny handbook for handling those tricky conversations we all face, is now newly edited and available in digital and paperback format.

I’m participating in Amazon Affiliates, so your purchase through my website will enable me to make a wee bit more and not increase your cost at all.  The above link takes you to the LEAPFROG page on my website (not yet accessible directly) where you can learn more about the book. To skip that page and go directly to the book’s page on Amazon, click here. Thank you.

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21 Responses

  1. Tim F
    | Reply

    Dang, Janet – could you write a post that better describes how I feel? ‘Getting on Ebay now to search for a “Weltschmerz” hat or t-shirt…

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Methinks you could make a bundle on that line, Tim. Forget eBay; create your own little cottage industry right there in Boise! I’d buy a few; it’s the classic American solution to feeling bad: go shopping.
      Janet Givens recently posted…WeltschmerzMy Profile

      • Tim F
        | Reply

        You’re right – what could be more American? I’ll give you final design approval and a cut of the action, of course 😉

        • Janet Givens
          | Reply

          You’re a good man, Mr. Fearnside. I shall wait by my phone. 🙂
          Janet Givens recently posted…WeltschmerzMy Profile

    • Carolyn
      | Reply

      I ditto that

  2. Irene Salazar
    | Reply

    One of my French profs in college used to use this a lot. She used it while discussing early Romanticism. A sort of exquisite, almost-savored pain and sadness. World-weary in that sense. I just assumed she used it correctly but who knows? In reference to love… I used to think it was “belle-schmerz” bc of this. I never saw it written, only heard her say it in reference to German lit.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Interesting angle, Irene. Wiki includes references to “several romantic and decadent authors such as Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, William Blake, the Marquis de Sade, Charles Baudelaire, Giacomo Leopardi, Paul Verlaine, François-René de Chateaubriand, Alfred de Musset, Mikhail Lermontov, Nikolaus Lenau, Hermann Hesse, and Heinrich Heine.” Perhaps she was referring to one of these. I imagine we’re not the first generation to feel weary of the way the world is going, for whatever reason. Thanks for weighing in.
      Janet Givens recently posted…WeltschmerzMy Profile

  3. Clive
    | Reply

    Having studied both English and German at school this is a word to which I was introduced at a fairly young age. It is such an evocative word, and there should be no shame in feeling it. And thank you for pointing out why President Drumpf capitalises so many words in his tweets 😉
    Clive recently posted…#TimeToTalk Day 2020My Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      It’s a great word, isn’t it Clive. I actually still remember learning it way back when. “Evocative,” you called it. Yes; I think so.
      Janet Givens recently posted…WeltschmerzMy Profile

  4. Merril D. Smith
    | Reply

    I didn’t know the word, so thank you. Yes, it describes perfectly what I’ve been feeling.
    I know there have always been injustices–there were laws and quotas that restricted the “huddled masses,” for instance. We fought a Civil War, and later the Klan rose–these things have been here, but the current administration has given permission for the dark underbelly of our society to bare itself. And, so many people do not seem to care. I feel like our system of checks and balances is broken, and I don’t know if it can be restored.
    Merril D. Smith recently posted…Whispers of SpringMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      That is a big piece of this, Merrill; I agree. Our system is broken, corrupted. And it’s now so overt and in-your-face. This election is truly a watershed: moderation once again or a dramatic change in how we’ve been going (some call that the Bernie revolution; I’m not so sure it reaches that level, but it would be dramatic). People hate change, dramatic change especially; we’ve gotten so used to this ship of ours floating sideways in the sea, people are now afraid to right the ship, for whatever might happen then!!! And the group that wins gets to write the history! That’s what I’m most concerned with, I think; Mitch might well go down in the history books as a strong leader, who helped “right” the ship of state. OMG!
      Janet Givens recently posted…WeltschmerzMy Profile

  5. Ally Bean
    | Reply

    Funny how the past and present are connected sometimes. I remember 30 Days and I loved it. Good thoughts associated with it. Like you I feel the soul weariness of our current political climate and could use a Weltschmerz shot. If only.

  6. Bette Stevens
    | Reply

    You’re not alone… Let’s hope it shall pass and quickly!
    Bette Stevens recently posted…From the Poetic to the Factual: Two Book ReviewsMy Profile

  7. Woody Starkweather
    | Reply

    Yes I think you have nailed it. It is the word for our time.

  8. Jenny Cressman
    | Reply

    Yes, I’ve been feeling the same! I think many other people have been too, sadly enough, no matter what our citizenship or where we reside. I see it here among my fellow Canadians, as well as throughout Cuba.
    Jenny Cressman recently posted…There’s still space! It’s not too late…My Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks for adding the Canadian view, Jenny. Good to have you here.
      Janet Givens recently posted…WeltschmerzMy Profile

  9. Joan Z Rough
    | Reply

    Spot on Janet! I’ve noticed that a lot of folks are feeling the same way … very grumpy, terse, few smiles, lots of anxiety. Even being on the road around here has gotten worse. Everyone is effected.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Yup. I’ve noticed that too, Joan. Not everyone, but surely those who seem to have forgotten to breath. Thanks to this current storm, Woody and I are hunkered down for the next 48 hours, so no road travel for me. Grateful for the small things.
      Janet Givens recently posted…WeltschmerzMy Profile

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