And Death Too

Caspar David Friedrich’s The Monk by the Sea (1809) is historically radical due to it’s lack of depth, which at the time was rare for landscapes.  Similarly, “Inscription For The Spot Where The Hermitage Stood On St. Herbert’s Island, Derwent-Water” by William Woodsworth is radical in it’s own sense. Romanticism itself was and is full of radical ideas. Radical ideas that engulf the human being into reflection of their own connection with nature. In Woodsworth poem he expresses:

This quiet spot.–St. Herbert hither came

And here, for many seasons, from the world

Remov’d, and the affections of the world

He dwelt in solitude. He living here,

I find myself imagining this lone figure that “dwelt in solitude” within the canvas of Friederich’s sky-dominated painting. The undulating black horizontal sea, and the curvatures in the sand take up less space of the canvas, yet they express more of the story. Just as interesting is the figure that rests upon the sand. The figure appears miniscule in comparison to the ocean and skies above them, and the figure appears to be staring out into this vast image just as the viewer is. The painting immediately evokes emotions of solitude, and isolation from the world. Similarly, the poem expresses these ideas of being “removd” “for many seasons”, but we have no idea what season it is in this landscape, it’s almost as if the portrait exists outside of our feeble ideas of time and space. The uncertainty of the season or location of the “the quiet spot” adds to the solitude. Whether the solitude is sad or happy is not clear. Initially looking at the painting, there is a strong emotion of the eeriness of being alone in a big place, but I sensed that this solitude also evoked emotions of oneness with nature itself. Solitude leads to reflection…and dare I say….romanticism? I struggled to determine whether being embraced by nature was a happy emotion, or rather a melancholic and thought-provoking one.

In Woodworth’s poem the lone man is also craving the company of his one friend:

Along the beach of this small isle and thought
Of his Companion, he had pray’d that both
Might die in the same moment.

This intense feeling of wanting to die with another person can be paralleled to the painting because it demands so much empathy from the viewer. This empathy originates from watching someone so small, much like ourselves, be swallowed up by their surroundings. Again, whether this is a beautiful experience or a horrifying experience is up to the viewer. It can be interpreted in different ways, but I believe that the final line in the poem that expresses that both the men died at the same time

Though here the Hermit number’d his last days,
Far from St. Cuthbert his beloved friend,
Those holy men both died in the same hour.

shares this primary idea that no matter how far away we are from each other universal connections with those we love exists due to nature itself thrusting upon us two similarities: death and insignificance. The person in the canvas is powerless. Despite their importance in their own mind, and perhaps in their dear friend’s heart, they aren’t. Dying in the same hour, or succumbing to nature by viewing it, is the only way to give up. Which is important to do. Eventually. At some given hour.

-Beyanira Bautista


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