We Are Seven by William Wordsworth is best represented by The Abby in the Oakwood by Caspar David Friedrich. The painting has a very dark feeling to it, as it displays what seems to once be a church with graves surrounding the area. Along with the graves, there are dead oak trees that accompany the remaining pieces of the church. Both image and poem convey ideas of death and darkness. However, there are visuals of light: the sky. In the poem, the child believes that there are seven siblings in total. Technically speaking, that is true but the girl is disregarding the fact that two of her siblings have passed away. The man argues that there are only five in total with two siblings dead in the physical world. Throughout the poem, both argue until the poem ends ambiguously for the reader to interpret.
So, let’s break it down to how this painting is so similar to the poem and the idea of romanticism.
Then did the little Maid reply,
“Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the church-yard lie,
Beneath the church-yard tree.”
- William Wordsworth, 1805, Stanza 8, Lines 29-32, page 53
This following excerpt seems to be best represented by the painting by Friedrich. What lies beneath the church-yard tree are graves. In the painting, there seems to be a cross on the ground. The cross could be where the two fallen siblings lie. This excerpt also shows the innocence of the little girl as she directly states that her two dead siblings are buried beneath the church-yard tree while disagreeing with the speaker. She goes on to say that she spends time with her two siblings by singing, eating supper, and even playing there. She kind of paints a colorful image of how she spends her time during her visits. In a sense, she is showing her perspective of death. She doesn’t view her brother and sister as dead, but she sees them as if they were still with her. Whether or not that if that seems creepy to some, it definitely shows the innocence of a child– blind from the realities and concepts of physical death. Yet, this painting by Friedrich doesn’t really show any of that innocence or feelings of togetherness. Although, it does have a bright contrast as the sky is full white. The sky can be a representation of the girl’s innocence or Heaven. However, the speaker (man) that the little girl is speaking to seems to be seeing what the painting is showing.
“You run about, my little Maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the church-yard laid,
Then ye are only five.
- William Wordsworth, 1805, Stanza 9, Lines 33-36, page 53
The man argues that there can only be five siblings if two are dead. He is showing signs of skepticism to her explanation of seven siblings. Now this is where the image that the little girl was once painting turns into dark reality that the painting is presenting. Yes, the two siblings are dead and the facts are there. The little girl said it herself, John and Jane are buried underneath the church-yard tree. As the reader goes through this poem, they see how things are changing as the two are arguing. It goes from the perspective of an innocent child to an adult–a total 180. With the aid of the painting while reading the poem, it shows how this imagery of pure innocence may be cracking as the man is stating more facts.
Or maybe the painting and poem display low and rustic life. To the speaker, he thinks the little girl doesn’t understand the concept of death. Maybe that is due to a lack of education–little to no knowledge of understanding physical death. Or maybe the man is Death himself by warning her to not interact with the spirits of the dead. Maybe she can’t let go of them, thus leads to the interaction between the man and the little girl. Let’s be honest, why would a man talk to a little girl in a graveyard? Anyways, one of the reasons why I believe the man could be Death is how he says that the girl is alive because of her limbs. And the reason why he is so algorithmic is because he is keeping count of the dead–keeping an equilibrium between life and death.
“But they are dead: those two are dead!
Their spirits are in Heaven!”
’Twas throwing words away: for still
The little Maid would have her will,
And said, “Nay, we are seven!”
- William Wordsworth, 1805, Stanza 17, Lines 65-69, page 55
The poem ends with a heated conclusion between the speaker and the little girl. After explaining herself to the man, he says that her two siblings are no longer here (physically), but are in heaven (spiritually). Although the man is right in a realistic perspective, the little girl has the last say as she yells “we are seven!”. All in all, I visualize the little girl maintaining her innocence and the picture she painted for the reader mentally. Yes, her siblings may be dead, but she treats them as if they were still around by spending time with them. Her perspective on death is not so much about realism, but more on how she deals with it. Throughout the poem, she urges that she can have relationships with the dead. But the speaker is shoving the idea that the poor little girl is just delusional. From what he sees, he sees the painting. Nothing but the dark, harsh truth– and he only counts five because the painting shows five dark figures in the painting. Not seven dark spots, but five dark spots in the middle of the painting.
But I say this is a very good execution of one of the characteristic attitudes that define romanticism: the exaltation of emotion over reason and relying on the senses over intellect. The little girl is the embodiment of this characteristic. She would much rather believe that her brother and sister are still with her (emotion/senses) and is denying the fact that they are dead (reason/intellect). The man is stuck on the physical plane of the world, yet the little girl is able to see beyond that. To the little girl, the dead siblings still counts as being part of our physical world–whether it be physically or spiritually, she feels that they still belong.
- Christopher Luong