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Waldeinsamkeit is an untranslatable German word translated literally as “forest loneliness”, but it has a deeper meaning (which is what makes it untranslatable).

Roughly pronounced: vad-ein-sum-kite

Waldeinsamkeit means the feeling of being alone in the woods (nature), but it also implies a connection with that nature. The transcendentalists understood it, Thoreau claimed to need “the tonic of nature”, while Emerson wrote a poem (see below). It was a major theme in the German literary period known as Romanticism (1800-1850), who often wrote of returning to the glory of nature.

While obscure, even to German speaking peoples, I think it is an important part of keeping us human. While not named explicitly, waldeinsamkeit is a major theme in Christian (and other religious) history. In today’s fast paced hectic lifestyle, full of car alarms and bleating horns construction sounds and sirens, we could all use a little more waldeinsamkeit. Even a brief respite from the modern industrial milieu can aid in the restoration of calm and connectedness. As promised, here is Emerson’s poem:

Waldeinsamkeit
by Ralph W. Emerson

I do not count the hours I spend
In wandering by the sea;
The forest is my loyal friend,
Like God it useth me.

In plains that room for shadows make
Of skirting hills to lie,
Bound in by streams which give and take
Their colors from the sky;

Or on the mountain-crest sublime,
Or down the oaken glade,
O what have I to do with time?
For this the day was made.

Cities of mortals woe-begone
Fantastic care derides,
But in the serious landscape lone
Stern benefit abides.

Sheen will tarnish, honey cloy,
And merry is only a mask of sad,
But, sober on a fund of joy,
The woods at heart are glad.

There the great Planter plants
Of fruitful worlds the grain,
And with a million spells enchants
The souls that walk in pain.

Still on the seeds of all he made
The rose of beauty burns;
Through times that wear and forms that fade,
Immortal youth returns.

The black ducks mounting from the lake,
The pigeon in the pines,
The bittern's boom, a desert make
Which no false art refines.

Down in yon watery nook,
Where bearded mists divide,
The gray old gods whom Chaos knew,
The sires of Nature, hide.

Aloft, in secret veins of air,
Blows the sweet breath of song,
O, few to scale those uplands dare,
Though they to all belong!

See thou bring not to field or stone
The fancies found in books;
Leave authors' eyes, and fetch your own,
To brave the landscape's looks.

Oblivion here thy wisdom is,
Thy thrift, the sleep of cares;
For a proud idleness like this
Crowns all thy mean affairs.

 

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