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Engraving by Jusepe de Ribera depicting the melancholic and world-weary figure of a poet.

Weltschmerz (German: [ˈvɛltʃmɛɐ̯ts] ; literally "world-pain") is a literary concept describing the feeling experienced by an individual who believes that reality can never satisfy the expectations of the mind,[1][2] resulting in "a mood of weariness or sadness about life arising from the acute awareness of evil and suffering".[3]

The term was coined by the German Romantic author Jean Paul in his 1827 novel Selina,[1] and in its original definition in the Deutsches Wörterbuch by the Brothers Grimm, it denotes a deep sadness about the insufficiency of the world ("tiefe Traurigkeit über die Unzulänglichkeit der Welt"). The translation can differ depending on context; in reference to the self it can mean "world-weariness", while in reference to the world it can mean "the pain of the world".[4]

The worldview of Weltschmerz has been retroactively seen as widespread among Romantic and decadent authors such as Jean Paul, the Marquis de Sade, Lord Byron, Giacomo Leopardi, William Blake, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, François-René de Chateaubriand, Oscar Wilde, Alfred de Musset, Mikhail Lermontov, Nikolaus Lenau,[5] Hermann Hesse,[6] and Heinrich Heine.[5]

Further examples[edit]

The modern meaning of Weltschmerz in the German language is the psychological pain caused by sadness that can occur when realizing that someone's own weaknesses are caused by the inappropriateness and cruelty of the world and (physical and social) circumstances.[7]

In Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller describes an acquaintance, "Moldorf", who has prescriptions for Weltschmerz on scraps of paper in his pocket. John Steinbeck wrote about this feeling in two of his novels; in East of Eden, Samuel Hamilton feels it after meeting Cathy Trask for the first time, and it is referred to as the Welshrats in The Winter of our Discontent. Ralph Ellison uses the term in Invisible Man with regard to the pathos inherent in the singing of spirituals: "Beneath the swiftness of the hot tempo there was a slower tempo and a cave and I entered it and looked around and heard an old woman singing a spiritual as full of Weltschmerz as flamenco". Kurt Vonnegut references the feeling in his novel Player Piano, in which it is felt by Doctor Paul Proteus and his father. In John D. MacDonald's novel Free Fall in Crimson, Travis McGee describes Weltschmerz as "homesickness for a place you have never seen".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Weltschmerz | Romantic literary concept". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  2. ^ Georg Büchmann (1898). Geflügelte Worte. Der Citatenschatz des deutschen Volkes. Haude & Spener'sche Buchhandlung (F. Weidling). pp. 223–224. Archived from the original on 2013-05-29. Retrieved 2022-01-31.
  3. ^ Beiser, Frederick C. (2016). Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900. Oxford University Press. p. 1. ISBN 9780191081347.
  4. ^ "Weltschmerz is the word that perfectly sums up how you're feeling right now". Metro. 2020-05-30. Retrieved 2020-07-18.
  5. ^ a b Braun, Wilhelm Afred (1905). Types of Weltschmerz in German Poetry. London: Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231944823. Retrieved 9 April 2016.
  6. ^ Stelzig, Eugene L. (1988). Hermann Hesse's Fictions of the Self: Autobiography and the Confessional Imagination. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 81. ISBN 0-691-06750-3. Retrieved 9 April 2016.
  7. ^ Heinssen, Johannes (2003). Historismus und Kulturkritik: Studien zur deutschen Geschichtskultur im späten 19. Jahrhundert (in German). Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. p. 615. ISBN 9783525351932.

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of Weltschmerz at Wiktionary