The Romantic era sought beauty in the natural world as a way of responding to the industrial boom that modernized the western world. However, it did not only mean that people were focused on looking toward the horizon for beauty, or searching for the meaning of life in a mountain range, it also meant that literature, art and beauty would be more democratic. It meant that there was a complexity to the lives of the poor working class, and they too were able to express themselves poetically. With that being said, William Wordsworth is one of the pioneers who tried to incorporate the connection poor people had to the world. In his poem, “We Are Seven” there are class markers that the speaker of the poem identifies in the first stanza that mark the subjects of the poem, and even exoticizes them. The first line of the poem sets the tone by beginning with “A simple child” and this signals images in the reader’s imagination immediately about how to understand the family and domestic quality in the poem. Another class marker is when the speaker describes the the little “cottage girl” in stanza two, and these markers help to put into perspective how the cryptic moments in the poem are inherently tied to the class status of the family. The little girl seems to be confused about what the title of the poem suggests, which is that she believes there are seven people in her household when in fact some of the members have actually died. The speaker of the poem seems to be conflicted about the “cottage” girl’s blissful ignorance because of her “simple” way of understanding the world–which seems to exclude the idea of passing away.
The painting by David Caspar Friedrich, “The Abbey in the Oakwood” is a romantic era painting that embodies the idea of nature vs civilization, but it is also the negotiation between these two concepts in a coexisting manner. This reminds me of how the little girl says “two of us in the church-yard lie” in stanza six when she is referring to their grave sites, which are described as being “green” in stanza ten. This seems to be a deliberate way of assigning a lively color like green to a gravesite, which is obviously to keep the dead. There seems to be a duality here that is much like the painting where wee see a dead trees and an incomplete building because it has been abandoned. However, we still get the natural world working–the painting gives it life as a way of accepting the passing of things a part of the circularity. Although the painting is a little more cryptic, it definitely parallels the poem on how death seems to be in constant movement with nature, and ultimately man.
This duality of death and life looks kind of cryptic when it is attributed to the status of the poor. This could have something to do with the idea of not having tombstones adorned like aristocratic people did, as Wordsworth has alluded to in another poem, but it also has to do with the way in which the Romantics like Wordsworth and Coleridge looked to democratize the poor in conversation with the mainstream. In other words, they tried to de-marginalize the poor by including them in the center of their works. It is actually pretty marxist of them to do so, but it is also shows the gaze that is inevitable when people who do not belong to the working-class try to speak for them. To attribute death and its circularity to the working class shows more about Wordsworth’s gaze, than it might about poor working class people. The painting by Friedrich demonstrates a sort of othering that is attributed to these forgotten or “abandoned” people, as I have mentioned. By looking at this painting, it could be said that Wordworth looked at poor people in this way; he might have found them to be deserving of being brought into the mainstream of culture, but in a way he is also not one of them so he, in effect, has also exoticized them.