By looking at the first picture by Gericault, it becomes clear that we are departing from the normative expectations of Romantic paiting. The presence of human intervention within the verdant landscape is clear. Buildings rise from the tan, ragged landscape, flesh with the cold stone. The aqueduct appears on the left corner of the painting, one of the classic examples of molding the landscape to the needs of the homosapien. Humans can be seen at the center of the painting, yet, while they are central in terms of placement, they still are at the periphery the far edges of the landscape.
The element of humans seems to contradict the centrality of nature within romantic art, but these humans are one within nature, naked, nude and vulnerable. This element of the naturalistic man is purely romantic, since man is nude, one within nature.
Nature is a curative element for the human. It is the best reparative salve for the human psyche, medicine comes from the earth, and nature can heal the broken soul. “The Dungeon” reveals what happens when people are stripped from this natural setting, when the nature is lost.
The dungeon is described as “made for man;” it is cold and dark, holds the bodies of humans in cells made for man by man (l. 1). The speaker asks of the guilty: “Is this the only cure?” (l. 5) He describes the punishment that this cure for immorality entails: “Each pore and natural outlet shrivell’d up…/ His energies roll back upon his heart,/ And stagnate and corrupt; till changed to poison” (ll. 6-9). The greatest punishment that man faces in exile is to be deprived of nature, to be deprived of the primal, the essential, and the real.
The next stanza seems to present a better option: O nature!/ Healest thy wandering and distempered child” (ll. 20-21). Rather than chaining the offender: “pourest on him thy soft influences,/ Thy sunny hues, fair forms, and breathing sweets,/ Thy melodies of woods, and winds, and waters,/ Till he relent” (ll. 20-25). Man can reallign his moral compass within the grasp of nature, in the arms of the earth.
This relates to the ideas of industrialization, foreshadowed in Gericault’s picture. Civilization looms on the right side of the painting, oncoming and foreboding. The cityscape of industrialization is a dungeon by itself, encapsulating man in an iron, concrete cage of his own design. Gericault, and the romantics, yearn for a time released from the chains of modernity. Every man is a slave, every man is a prisoner.