A Remembered Moment of Transcendence

I can’t really account for it, but, for some reason, ever since I first heard it, I’ve loved a little German lyric by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe entitled “Wandrers Nachtlied II”:

Über allen Gipfeln
Ist Ruh,
In allen Wipfeln
Spürest du
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.

It’s been more or less adequately translated as “Wayfarer’s Night Song II,” as follows:

Over all the hilltops
is calm.
In all the treetops
you feel
hardly a breath of air.
The little birds fall silent in the woods.
Just wait . . .  Soon
you’ll also be at rest.

In my mind, I associate a particular scene with it, a memory of a place that I can no longer identify, though I know that it was in the mountains of southern California.

I was about eleven, and was backpacking.  A friend or two and I had just come over a ridge on a Friday evening.  It was nearing sundown — we had started fairly late — and before us lay a large mountain-ringed basin or bowl of trees.  Across the way, it was just possible to see a whiff of smoke ascending from the camp to which we were headed, where other friends were already fixing dinner.

It was an achingly beautiful and deeply serene vista, and the thought of rest, just a short distance away after a fairly strenuous ascent, was very appealing.

Out of all of my youthful backpacking, I’m not sure why that scene lingers in my mind in so peculiar a fashion.  It’s always linked with Goethe’s poem, too, with which I certainly wasn’t familiar at the time.

And the two are linked with . . . I don’t know.  Death?  (Despite my melancholy moments over the past two months since my brother died, I’m really not obsessed with death, and never have been.)  There’s a vague memory, or a premonition, a sense of yearning for something that I can’t quite identify.  I suspect that it’s connected with what I’ve written about, elsewhere, as “divine homesickness.”

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