The Book of Human Emotions: From Ambiguphobia to Umpty - 154 Words from Around the World for How We Feel - Tiffany Watt Smith 2016
The life of composer and virtuoso pianist Frédéric Chopin was lived in the sharp twists and bitter resentments that come when we lose everything. His exile from Poland, his turbulent relationship with the novelist George Sand, his frail health, which forced him to withdraw from the society of others, the strange episodes of delirium foreshadowing the consumption that killed him at thirty-nine. For Chopin, it was the untranslatable Polish emotion Żal that produced the morbid intensity we can still hear in his work, arguably the most haunting piano music ever created. It was, according to Chopin’s friend and biographer Franz Liszt, the “soil of his heart.”
Żal (pronounced jahl) is melancholy felt at an irretrievable loss. This is not a straightforward dejection. Żal is fickle, and shifts its shape, at one moment resigned, the next rebellious. It combines the DISAPPOINTMENT, REGRET and even violent fury that comes when some part of our lives has been taken away for good. According to Liszt, Chopin’s Żal was most of all a kind of anger, “full of reproach [and] premeditated violence… feeling itself with a bitter, if sterile, hatred.” Chopin’s Żal, wrote Liszt, found its greatest expression in the composer’s later works—the Etudes and Scherzos, which speak of a despair, “sometimes ironic, sometimes disdainfully proud,” of recognizing the end of things.
See also: RESENTMENT; VENGEFULNESS.