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I enjoyed reading The Forest and The Faustian Soul,  one in a series of “timeless essays” at The Imaginative Conservative.   From the essay:

It has been said that the Germanic soul and the forest are one and the same thing: the mythological Forest that contrasts the splendid isolation of man in his solitude against the infinity of nature. Only this kind of soul could have such a word in its language as Waldeinsamkeit—”Forest-loneliness”—just as one of the most moving passages in Western literature is the Easter scene in Goethe’s Faust: “A longing pure and not to be described/drove me to wander over woods and fields/and in a mist of hot abundant tears/I felt a world arise and live for me.”
… The fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm all took place in the woods, while Siegfried, Parsifal, Tristan, Hamlet, Faust—those quintessentially Northern heroes—all longed for the woods in which their inner lives were awakened. Oswald Spengler, the maniacally erudite German historian, wrote in his Untergang des Abenlandes (“Decline of the West”) of the northern “longing for the woods; the mysterious compassion, the ineffable sense of forsakenness” and compared “Faustian” man—his Western ideal—with the Classical men of Antiquity, writing that “the rustle of the woods, a charm that no Classical poet ever felt, stands with its secret questions—whence, whither?”
The Forest: so invigorating and baptismal, suffused with those Goethean echoes that reverberate the lyrical tristesse of the high-minded loner; its contemplative splendor broken only by an occasional spray of sun-rays, like “fitful light-flecks playing in their shadow-filled volume,” as writes our Dr. Spengler. Indeed, if God made man in His image, one may say that Nature had her say and added three elements of her own: the Sea, the Stone and, above all, the Forest. The Sea—representing that which is rational, clear, enlightened in a man’s soul; Stone—to express his need to give shape to history, experience and memory. But most profoundly, the Forest—the darkness within him; a silent summons from deep within the murmur of trees giving rise to a man’s discovery of his own, authentic voice.
The Forest, expressed as the soul of the West, takes shape in the highest creations of art, religious architecture, music, literature, and in the Western sense of Destiny and Duration—the “rootedness” of a man’s spirit, family, and legacy. In architecture, the great forests of the northern plains, wrote Spengler, were the inspiration for cathedrals, their interiors mixed with mysterious light, “the endless, lonely, twilight wood… the secret wistfulness of all Western building forms.”
A few of my favorite examples given:
  • Architecture:  “the cathedral, like the plain or forest, has atmosphere and perfume, splendor and twilight… and gloom.”
  • Classical music:  “Even the shape of a Church high-organ, the invention of which is one of the most emotional chapters in the history of Western music, is, Spengler writes, ‘a history of a longing for the Forest, a longing to speak in the language of that true temple of the Western soul.'”
  • Literature:  “For the deeply spiritual Bohemian-Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, God was not to be found in painting, sculpture, or icons, but living on in the dark woods, to be portrayed ‘not with lapis or gold, but color made of apple bark.’ In his beautiful Stundenbuch(“Book of Hours”), Rilke writes in a series of love letters to God: ‘Often I imagine you, your wholeness cascades into many shapes. You run like a herd of luminous deer and I am dark. I am forest.'”

The author challenged anyone “…to listen to Elizabeth Schwarzkopf sing Richard Strauss’ “Morgen” and not see a lush mist breaking over a crusader castle-ruin, one fortified by woods, but vulnerable to troubadours….”

I know the scenery accompanying this isn’t the woods, but I still could envision the “lush mist breaking over a crusader castle-ruin…”





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