Looking into the Distance

Caspar David Friedrich, The Monk by the Sea, can be described in the poem “Expostulation and Reply”. In the Monk by the Sea, I see someone standing on a large surface staring off into the distance in a misty, gloomy surrounding. In the background, I see fog or mountains engulfing the man. In a way, this painting shows someone soul-searching by spending time surrounded by nature.

In the first four lines of the poem, it states

“Why William, on that old grey stone,

“Thus for the length of half a day,

“Why William, sit you thus alone,

“And dream your time away?

Here, Matthew can be heard asking William why he is spending all his time outside and day-dreaming all by himself. Matthew does not understand the beauty of nature and doesn’t like that William is just spending his time gazing into the distance. In The Monk by the Sea, we can see that there stands a person looking into the distance; absorbing in the beauty of nature. Matthew continues to question William and asks him “Where are your books? that light bequeath’d”. He questions why he would rather daydream than go read a book and learn something instead. Matthew is expostulating and kept telling William that he shouldn’t be doing what he is doing because he is wasting his time. But, William states that we can all learn something by looking at nature. Going back to the painting, the person staring off into the distance could have been just like William. That person and William was enlightened by the beauty of our surrounding. The fog or whiteness of the painting shows that light is shining on the person and could be foreshadowing of the enlightenment that someone goes through.

William finally replies to Matthew and tells him that “Our bodies feel, where’er they be/Against, or with our will”. We cannot stop ourselves from wanting what our body craves for and that is the knowledge learned from nature not through books.

-Naomi Van


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