Nostalgia: Definition, Examples of Nostalgia in Spoken Language and Literature

You may have come across the concept of nostalgia when studying the English language, but what does it mean? In this article, we are going to explore not only what nostalgia is but how it can be used in both spoken conversation and as a literary device. We are also going to be taking a look at some examples of nostalgia being used as a way to gain a greater understanding of its function.

What Is Nostalgia?

Generally speaking, nostalgia is a yearning or desire for the past. For example, if you once lived in a particular city and have had to move away, but you longed to go back and frequently reminisced about the times you spent there, this would create a feeling of nostalgia. It might also be described as a fondness for a previous time. When feeling nostalgia, you may notice intense emotions such as sadness or pleasure, depending on how the memories make you feel.

According to the online Merriam Webster dictionary, nostalgia is a “pleasure or sadness caused by remembering something from a past time and wanting to experience it once again.” Therefore, it is worth noting that whilst some might call nostalgia a sickness of sorts, it is in fact the simple act of remembering or taking an interest in the past.

Nostalgia can be seen in conversational language, especially in times where one might make a speech about a past time or event in fondness or some other type of emotion. However, it can also be used as a literary device as a way of talking about an interest in the past. We can see this quite clearly in the romantic movement of English literature, where many authors used nostalgia as a way of putting the focus on the pleasure or pain of the past.

Nostalgia Examples

Examples of Nostalgia In Spoken Language

We might often hear people speaking in a nostalgic sense, this can be a way to express their feelings and emotions surrounding a particular time and can be used to effectively put the listener in the mind set of the speaker. We are now going to take a look at some examples of nostalgia being used in a spoken context.

  • Certain smells can often bring about feelings of nostalgia, take a look at the following statement. “Whenever I smell freshly cut grass, it takes me back to when I was a child, frolicking in the fields with my sister, who is no longer with us.”
  • The weather might also bring about a feeling of nostalgia, look at the following sentence. “The day was hot and it reminded me of the day I met my husband, making me feel love and a heightened sense of joy.”
  • Hearing a song might invoke a nostalgic feeling, this is evident in the following statement. “Every time I hear Mozart’s 40th Symphony, I am taken back to the funeral of my father, the pain I felt was so great. This song brings back those emotions and I long for the days when my father was still alive.”
  • Nostalgia is often used in TV adverts as a way to draw in the audience by taking them back to a particular time. For example, a toy company might show images of their toy being played with years ago, in order to encourage parents to buy the product for their own children. By taking the parents back to their own childhood, feelings of pleasure are achieved and they will want to relive this by using the toy with their own kids.

Examples of Nostalgia In Literature

As we mentioned, nostalgia is frequently used as a literary device. The reason for doing this is similar to its use in spoken language, the writer is giving the readers the opportunity to feel and yearn in the same way that they or the character they are writing about does. It is an excellent way of expressing emotion. However, nostalgia is also used as a way to change the mood of a piece, turning it from sadness to pleasure or vice versa. Let’s now take a look at some examples of how nostalgia has been used in various pieces of written work.

  • In the famous poem, Patriot to traitor written by Robert Browning, the writer uses nostalgia as a way to engage the reader from the point of view of the King. The character was once well loved but is now facing execution and is longing for the past. “It was roses all the way. And myrtle in my path mixed like mad, The roofs of the houses appeared to sway and heave. Spires of the churches flamed, with flags. A year ago to this day!”
  • In Little Dorrit, written by Charles Dickens, we see a very good example of nostalgia in the following passage “I must confess I suffer greatly from homesickness, and I long so desperately for home, so when nobody sees me, I am pining for it. I so dearly love my poverty and your kindness,” In this instance, the character is longing for her past when all of her family appear to have forgotten it.
  • In the poem, Daffodils written by William Wordsworth, the daffodils themselves invoke feelings of nostalgia, and the entire poem is based around remembering the feeling of sitting amongst the flowers whilst in reality, sitting in his home. The use of nostalgia here is to bring back feelings of peace and pleasure which the writer felt at the time he is looking back to.


Nostalgia can be used as a literary device which can allow the writer to discuss feelings of pain or pleasure when remembering events, places or people from the past. The idea is that feelings of nostalgia bring about intense emotions and this is a great way to engage readers in the writing.

We can quite often see the use of nostalgia in spoken language, especially when people are talking about events or things from their past and wishing that they were back there once again.

Nostalgia Infographic