Paramaecium’s “Within the Ancient Forest” Lyrics – Outlined, Explained, Analyzed – Part 2: The Ancient Invades the Old

“The heart of Man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him…”

– J.R.R. Tolkien, “Mythopoeia”

“I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.”

– Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Ulysses”

Within the Ancient Forest 2 the old man

Image: “The Wanderer” (c) Antti Autio, used with permission []

By the beginning of the second track, we find our protagonist “wander[ing]” in the “dim light of dawn” – and the amount of light (and thus knowledge) increases over the track. The song that Dé-nyl hears Destiny sing before he meets her is the exposition of the mythological underpinning of the world of Within the Ancient Forest – a world that, strangely enough, at first seems as fictional to Dé-nyl as to any of us, even though he is a part of it. The book contains two lyrical songs – the “Song of the Ancient” in the sixth chapter, and the song sung by the “distant voices” in the last chapter. Both are naturally performed by female voices on the album – and the second track even takes its name from Destiny’s song, although the song itself covers only about half of the track – Tompkins’s own vocals being reserved for the “frame narration” with one short exception.

It might be rewarding to remember that at this point Dé-nyl has only lived in the mountain monastery and read books so far – he has never met an Immortal (or any female being for all we know), and he does not believe that the sword-and-sorcery tales he has read are actually the real history of his country. This is about to change with the appearance of Destiny, the beautiful Immortal who is crystal clear about the historicity of the legends of Garen. The meaning of her “Song of the Ancient” is very straightforward – any line from it can be taken almost at face value. It is the true history of mankind in the world of Within the Ancient Forest, and at the same time it is a version of the Judeo-Christian story about the Fall of Man, which centers around an “old man” (representing the human race) who grew up in the Hidden Lands (representing Paradise) but has since lost his original immortality and “become not what was intended” through serving the desires of his own heart (this event is even called “the Fall” in the song) and has exchanged the legendary Garensword for a wooden staff. For the “old man” (note that this is also a phrase used by St. Paul to denote fallen, “corrupt” mankind – Ephesians 4:22) to find redemption would mean for him find the way back to the “Hidden Lands”, where “the Ancient” (i.e. God – this name might have been borrowed from the Book of Daniel, chapter 7) dwells. However, in order to get there, the “old man” would first have to rediscover the Garensword, which for the time seems hopelessly lost.

This origin myth is coupled with a mystical outlook on reality that could be called “symbolist” or “sacramentalist”: “lives are merely a doorway wherethrough can be expressed the nature of the Ancient; the one who abides within the Hidden Lands”. In other words, everything that lives in the world is symbolic of the realm to which God the creator belongs. Nature mirrors supernature. As Plato teaches, there is a higher realm compared to which everything we experience are only pictures and shadows. Man has lost contact with this higher, ultimate reality (it is “hidden”) but nevertheless can sometimes catch glimpses of it through assuming that “life and lives” are capable of “expressing” this hidden realm. In the words of Tolkien’s poem “Mythopoeia,” man is somewhat capable of moving “from mirrored truth” towards “the True,” or to put it differently, the world is a book and therefore a manifestation (and only one of many possible manifestations) of the ideas of its author.

The song also establishes a careful contrast between “old” (implying something that has grown old, decayed, withered, turned “grey with age”) and “ancient” (which always refers to God and must therefore mean something more along the lines of “ageless” or “eternal”). In the prime of his youth Dé-nyl learns of the existence of Immortals and the truth of the tale, and in spite of his young age he recognizes himself as the “old man” of the song. Of course, this already implies that it will be his task to find the Garensword and ultimately the Ancient, but Destiny will make this clear to Dé-nyl in due course. For now, it is enough for Dé-nyl to identify himself as the “old man.” His identification with the “old man” is hinted at musically by the fact that one single line of the “Song of the Ancient” is covered by Tompkins’s death metal vocals, which are usually reserved for Dé-nyl’s first-person narration: It is the one line that contains the “old man’s” direct speech.

Following Dé-nyl’s break with materialism/rationalism and his nocturnal leap into the mysterious world of the ancient forest, Destiny the Immortal has now invaded Dé-nyl’s world and (at least emotionally) convinced him of the “truth” in the ancient myth of the Ancient and the “old man.” And something within him has responded to this; he feels the tale to be true, at least on some level (Freawil, the falcon representing his intuition, is seen flying “high and free above the forest canopy”). This is what myths generally do: They let us experience and “taste” spiritual truths instead of just explaining them to us. At the end of the song Dé-nyl is left pondering, “contemplative and lost in himself” just like the old man in the song. His final thought – “Am I even alive?” – provides a segue into the next track.

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