Paramaecium’s “Within the Ancient Forest” Lyrics – Outlined, Explained, Analyzed – Part 1: A Pool of Water

“You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.”

― Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life & Work


Within the Ancient Forest 1 a pool of water

Image: “Midnight Moon lake” by Sketcher2007 []

The title of the first track is “In Exordium”, which means “in the beginning.” As already mentioned, the story actually begins in medias res (in the middle of the action), but that has to do with the book and will no longer concern us here. “In Exordium” marks the beginning of the lyrics, and the forest pool is a good place for them to begin. The lyrics add an interesting twist that is not in the book, for Dé-nyl is first presented to us in the third person, as an anonymous “cloaked youth of sad temper and sorry virtue,” and it is only in the last line, and really only in the very last word of that line, that the perspective shifts to the first person: “…and I know this story well, as one should, of he that is I.”

This presentation of the “youth of sad temper and sorry virtue” shifts the emphasis away from the knowledge-hungry student of the first chapters of the book, and rather introduces Dé-nyl as the prototypical doom metal protagonist, weary and heavy laden with melancholy, Weltschmerz, Sehnsucht and an assortment of further sentiments with names borrowed from the German Romantics. (For example, read the lyrics to My Dying Bride’s classic “I Cannot Be Loved” and you will see what I mean.)

“In Exordium” is rather an exception among the Within the Ancient Forest lyrics – in addition to the third-to-first person shift already mentioned, the text is a rather impressionistic description of a moonlit scene with not much happening in it, and it is more about setting an atmosphere than telling a tale. The listener who is unfamiliar with the book has no clue yet – the image of the young man with the falcon gliding across the lake is presented as an idyll of absolute serenity. For all we know, this could happen every night. The young man could be entirely within his element; this could be his boat, his pool, and even his forest, why not. Only toward the end of the song does it become clearer that the traveler is not on familiar grounds, as he waits for sunrise to be able to see more of the surroundings before journeying on. The fact that it is night and that the moon is present also points in a similar direction – the moon being an ancient symbol of the uncanny (as well as of change and fickleness… oh, and the feminine).

To the reader of the book, the forest pool of course represents a bit more than just a cold and mysterious place – in the book, the only path through the forest is cut short by the huge lake, over which there used to be a bridge that has rotted away. It is the place that has made Dé-kaat the horse (representing stern rationalist philosophy) panic.  The water thus represents the irrational, the mysterious, the indefinable; the fact that Dé-nyl gets in the boat and crosses the water represents a “leap of faith” on his part – a leap into the unknown, out of the sunlight of dry rationalism and empiricism into the mysterious light of the moon which the horse could only perceive as darkness.  Like all heroes before him, Dé-nyl has now crossed the “threshold of adventure,” as myth guru Joseph Campbell called this stage in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In a way, even though the journey is only beginning, it begins with Dé-nyl giving some things up (even though at this stage he is forced to give them up – the path simply stops and the horse simply runs off, leaving him no real choice).

In both the book and the lyrics, there is an interesting connection between the forest lake and another “pool of water” at the very end of the tale, so that in a way by the end our protagonist will have come “full circle,” as in all good stories. For now it will be enough to remember that the album begins with the image of Dé-nyl leaving his old life behind as he floats over a pool of water and the perspective shifts towards his first-person view and culminates in the one word “I.”

But who is this “I”? The next few songs will try to answer this question.

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