The German language is full of oddly specific terminology. ‘Waldeinsamkeit’ is one of them.
It’s a compound word made of ‘der Wald’ (forest) and ‘die Einsamkeit’ (loneliness) that does what it says on the tin. It’s that feeling of calm solitude while walking through the woods on your own, one that might be all too familiar, by now, to those who’ve spent lock down near a forest, or any patch of greenery.
This niche word is embedded in a rich spiritual history.
The motif circumscribes an ascetic ideal of Buddhist and Hindu monks, as well as that of the Christian eremites until well into the middle ages. Its legacy remains alive and well in strands of monasticism like the Thai Forest Tradition, which emphasises meditation, austere living and pilgrimages into nature.
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In Germany, the image captured the imaginations of the Romantics in the 18th century. It was popularised by the famous fairy tale writer Ludwig Tieck, or rather, by a bird in his story ‘Der Blonde Eckbert’ (The Blonde Eckbert) who sings:
Mich wieder freut,
Mir geschieht kein Leid,
Hier wohnt kein Neid
Von neuem mich freut
Brings me joy again,
No sorrow can strike me,
No jealousy resides here,
Yet again, there’s the joy
Of Forest loneliness.
From then it became a Romantic must-have (if not cliche) for all of the great German writers of the time, from Heine to Novalis.
A recent trend in “Waldbaden” (forest bathing), in which people seek themselves by wandering the forests, only goes to show that an element of this ascetic love of the forest remains in German culture to this day. There is an enduring fascination with the forest and its magical or mystical effect on people.
Ich floh in die grüne Waldeinsamkeit.
I fled into the green Waldeinsamkeit. – Heinrich Heine, ‘Waldeinsamkeit’
Waldeinsamkeit! / Du grünes Revier, / Wie liegt so weit / Die Welt von hier!
Waldeinsamkeit! You green territory, how far the world does lies from here! – Joseph von Eichendorff, ‘Der Umkehrende’
Ich war im Schwarzwald und habe die Waldeinsamkeit gesucht.
I was in the black forest searching for Waldeinsamkeit.