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Sehnsucht by Oskar Zwintscher, c.1900

Sehnsucht (German pronunciation: [ˈzeːnˌzʊxt]) is a German noun translated as "longing", "pining", "yearning", or "craving",[1] or in a wider sense a type of "intensely missing". However, Sehnsucht is difficult to translate adequately[citation needed] and describes a deep emotional state. Its meaning is somewhat similar to the Portuguese word saudade, or the Romanian word dor. Sehnsucht is a compound word, originating from an ardent longing or yearning (das Sehnen) and a long or lingering illness (das Siechtum).[2][not in citation given] However, these words do not adequately encapsulate the full meaning of their resulting compound, even when considered together.[3]

Some psychologists use the word sehnsucht to represent 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.[4] 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.[citation needed]

In psychology[edit]

Sehnsucht, sculpture by Susanne Kraißer

Psychologists have worked to capture the essence of Sehnsucht by identifying its six core characteristics: “(a) utopian conceptions of ideal development; (b) sense of incompleteness and imperfection of life; (c) conjoint time focus on the past, present, and future; (d) ambivalent (bittersweet) emotions; (e) reflection and evaluation of one's life; and (f) symbolic richness.”[5]

In a cross-cultural study conducted to determine whether the German concept of Sehnsucht could be generalized to the United States, four samples of American and German participants “rated their 2 most important life longings and completed measures of subjective well-being and health.”[6] German and American participants did not differ in their ability to identify life longings or the intensity of their Sehnsucht. However, German participants associated it more with unattainable, utopian states while Americans reported the concept as not as important to everyday life.

Some researchers posit that Sehnsucht has a developmental function that involves life management. By imagining overarching and possibly unachievable goals, individuals may be able to create direction in their life by developing more tangible goals, or “stepping stones” that will aid them on their path toward their ideal self. "[Sehnsucht has] important developmental functions, including giving directionality for life planning and helping to cope with loss and important, yet unattainable wishes by pursuing them in one's imagination."[7] It can also operate as a self-regulatory mechanism.

However, in a study that attempted to discover whether Sehnsucht played an active role in one’s ability to influence their own development, psychologists asked 81 participants to report “their most important personal goals and life longings, and [evaluate] these with respect to their cognitive, emotional, and action-related characteristics.”[8] Results showed that goals were perceived as more closely linked to everyday actions, and as such more controllable. Sehnsucht, on the other hand, was reported as more related to the past and future, and therefore more emotionally and developmentally ambiguous.

Also, in a study conducted in 2009, 168 middle-aged childless women were asked to rate their wish for children according to intensity and attainability. If the women rated their wish as intense and long-standing, their wish was considered a life-longing. If they rated their wish as intense and attainable, it was simply a goal. “The pursuit of the wish for children as a life longing was positively related to well-being only when participants had high control over the experience of this life longing and when other self-regulation strategies (goal adjustment) failed.”[9]

In literature[edit]

German-language literature[edit]

"Sehnsucht" is a poem by Friedrich Schiller that inspired composers like Franz Schubert and Siegfried Wagner. Goethe's "Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt" was set to music by multiple composers.[10]

"Sehnsucht nach dem Tode" is a poem by Novalis inspired by the longing to be reunited with his dead fiance, Sophie von Kuhn.

The German poet Siegfried August Mahlmann published a poem titled Sehnsucht in 1802.

English-language literature[edit]

Sehnsucht took on a particular significance in the work of author C. S. Lewis. Lewis described Sehnsucht as the "inconsolable longing" in the human heart for "we know not what." In the afterword to the third edition of The Pilgrim's Regress he provided examples of what sparked this desire in him particularly:

That unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World's End, the opening lines of "Kubla Khan", the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.[11]

Because the concept of Sehnsucht is so important in Lewis' writing, the Arizona C. S. Lewis Society titled their annual journal Sehnsucht: The C. S. Lewis Journal.

However, many native English speakers turn to the word nostalgia to describe the universal yearning for that which is forever lost. In Thomas Wolfe's epigraph to his novel Look Homeward, Angel, both nostalgia (Greek) and Sehnsucht (German) are vividly evoked:

Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When? O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.

"Nostalgia" is literally "pain for the past" and can be unbearable. But nostalgia is always, to quote the above, the "inconsolable longing in the human heart for what we" do know—as in Mahlmann's poem—not for C. S. Lewis's what we do not know. (For "we know not what.") This, because "nostalgia" is inextricably linked to memory. In addition, nostalgia is so widely used in English that in the media it has developed an alternative sense of light-hearted reminiscing.

In films[edit]

The Lebanese film director Badran Roy Badran treated the concept of Sehnsucht in his feature film A Play Entitled Sehnsucht in 2011.[12][13]

In music[edit]

Classical music[edit]

Franz Schubert made two settings of Schiller's "Sehnsucht" poem:

  • D 52, composed in April 1813
  • D 636, three versions, the last one published as his Op. 39 in 1826

Schubert's D 310, 359, 481 and 656 are all settings of Goethe's "Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt", some of these settings known as "Lied der Mignon" or "Sehnsucht". Further settings of the same poem are included in Schubert's Op. 62 (D 877) Gesänge aus Wilhelm Meister, published in 1826. "Sehnsucht" D 123, composed by Schubert on another poem by Goethe ("Was zieht mir das Herz so"), was first published in 1842. Schubert's "Sehnsucht der Liebe", D 180, is on a poem by Theodor Körner. D 516, Schubert's Op. 8 No. 2, is a setting of a "Sehnsucht" poem by Johann Baptist Mayrhofer. D 879, a "Sehnsucht" lied by Schubert published in 1828 as Op. 105 No. 4, is on a poem by Johann Gabriel Seidl.[14]

Richard Strauss composed a setting of Detlev von Liliencron's poem "Sehnsucht" in 1896 (Opus 32, number 2).

In the late 19th century Siegfried Wagner composed a symphonic poem, inspired by Schiller's "Sehnsucht" poem.


Sehnsucht is the second album by German industrial metal band Rammstein, released on 25 August 1997.[15] It is also the name of the lead song of that album.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "LEO Results for "sehnsucht"". 
  2. ^ "English-German translation for: Siechtum". 
  3. ^ "When Sehnsucht (desire) leads you up the garden path". Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. 
  4. ^ Kotter-Grühn, D.; Wiest, M.; Zurek, P.; Scheibe, S. (2009). "What is it we are longing for? Psychological and demographic factors influencing the contents of Sehnsucht (life longings)". Journal of Research in Personality. 43: 428–437. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2009.01.012. 
  5. ^ Scheibe, S.; Freund, A. M.; Baltes, P. B. (2007). "Toward a developmental psychology of Sehnsucht (life longings): The optimal (utopian) life". Developmental Psychology. 43: 778–795. PMID 17484587. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.43.3.778. 
  6. ^ Scheibe, S.; Blanchard-Fields, F.; Wiest, M.; Freund, A. M. (2011). "Is longing only for Germans? A cross-cultural comparison of sehnsucht in Germany and the United States.". Developmental Psychology. 47: 603–618. PMID 21219068. doi:10.1037/a0021807. 
  7. ^ Scheibe, S.; Freund, A. M. (2008). "Approaching Sehnsucht (life longings) from a life-span perspective: The role of personal utopias in development.". Research In Human Development: 121–133. 
  8. ^ Mayser, S.; Scheibe, S.; Riediger, M. (2008). "(Un)reachable? An empirical differentiation of goals and life longings.". European Psychologist. 13: 126–140. doi:10.1027/1016-9040.13.2.126. 
  9. ^ Kotter-Grühn, D.; Scheibe, S.; Blanchard-Fields, F.; Baltes, P. B. (2009). "Developmental emergence and functionality of Sehnsucht (life longings): The sample case of involuntary childlessness in middle-aged women.". Psychology And Aging. 24: 634–644. doi:10.1037/a0016359. 
  10. ^ "Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt" at LiederNet Archive
  11. ^ "Calvin College – Faith – Resources". 
  12. ^ "A Play Entitled Sehnsucht". 
  13. ^ "Reviews written by Khourysara6". IMDb. 
  14. ^ Otto Erich Deutsch. Franz Schubert, Thematisches Verzeichnis seiner Werke in chronologischer Folge Bärenreiter, 1978
  15. ^ "Sehnsucht (Coverbild kann abweichen)". 


  • Bruner, Kurt; Ware, Jim (2005), Finding God in the Land of Narnia, Tyndale House, ISBN 0-8423-8104-X 

External links[edit]