Monday, January 07, 2008



According to Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, the poet Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853) coined the word Waldeinsamkeit. It occurs in a song from Tieck's story Der Blonde Eckbert:
Forest solitude
Delights me
Tomorrow and today alike,
For all eternity.
Oh how forest solitude
pleases me.

Die mich erfreut,
So morgen wie heut
In ewger Zeit,
O wie mich freut
I translated Waldeinsamkeit as "forest solitude," but it is almost untranslatable. Ralph Waldo Emerson did not translate it when he used it as the title of one of his poems, and Judith Weir, in the libretto to her opera Blond Eckbert based on Tieck, also left it untranslated:
I feel alright;
Alone in the wood,
Things go as they should.
All day and all night:
The first element of the compound Waldeinsamkeit is Wald (woods, forest, cf. English wold).

Ein in German is the indefinite article (a, an) and also the number one.

According to Karl A. Schmidt, Easy Ways to Enlarge Your German Vocabulary (New York: Dover, 1974), p. 69,
-sam is related to English -some as in lonesome. It is usually attached to verb stems and indicates a capability of performing the action implied in the verb, or an inclination to do so.
Schmidt's examples include bedeutsam (from bedeuten = mean, signify) meaning significant and schweigsam (from schweigen = be silent) meaning taciturn. But it can also be attached to non-verb stems, such as langsam (slow) and einsam ("one-some" or lonesome). Other English words with the suffix -some are burdensome, fulsome, handsome, lissome, wholesome, winsome, etc.

Schmidt (p. 53) groups the suffixes -heit, -igkeit, and -keit together. Joined with adjectives, these suffixes form abstract nouns of the feminine gender. Schmidt (p. 54) says that -keit is etymologically equal to -ig plus -heit and forms abstract nouns from adjectives ending in -ig, -lich, -bar, and -sam. His examples include Traurigkeit (sadness) from the adjective traurig (sad) and Einsamkeit (loneliness) from the adjective einsam (lonesome). Similarly the English suffix -ness makes abstract nouns from adjectives, as greatness from great, kindness from kind, and righteousness from righteous.

Putting the four elements Wald, ein, -sam, and -keit together, we get Waldeinsamkeit = "forest solitude."

Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900), Pool in the Woods

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