Romantic Yellow Nature

Wordworth’s poem “Lines Written in Early Spring” and Caspar David Friedrich’s “The Monk by the Sea”
reveal reactions to the Industrial Revolution by Romantic artists. In both poems, nature is depicted as
unhealthy; and who fault is it? Humans’.
In Friedrich’s painting, the sky above the sea is full of heavy clouds. There seems to be a blue sky in the
work, almost like behind the painting. In a sense, the sky is obscured, the clouds seem mudded and the
sky is unclear. The clouds have a yellow-like tint to them, something doesn’t seem natural about the sky
in the painting.
The blue sky, as we know it, is a result of the sun’s light entering the Earth’s atmosphere and scattering
once that incoming light collides with gases and particles in the air. So, the particles and gases in the sky determine
the sky’s color: dust and pollution particles create more reds and yellows in the sky. Friedrich captures a
traditionally beautiful scene, and depicts it by adding a yellow that shows the toxic pollution particles of
the Industrial Revolution. Instead of feeling calm and escaping into a scene away from the real world,
Friedrich creates a painting that doesn’t invite anyone to escape to. Instead, I think he poses an
interesting question: Why should we need to use a painting to escape the real world and go somewhere
else for a few minutes, when we can just go outside and commit to appreciating and protecting our own
Similarly, the speaker in Wordworth’s poem is in a state of reflection. The speaker knows exactly what
spring should look and sound like, but it just isn’t. The third verse really highlights the state in which
nature finds itself after the Industrial Revolution; there is diction that suggest unhealthiness in nature.
Wordsworth provides a very insightful line loaded with dark imagery carried through diction, “The
periwinkle trail’d its wreaths;/and ’tis my faith that every flower/Enjoys the air it breaths.” The
periwinkle is a wild-like yellow flower that blooms in early spring. It’s a naturally beautiful flower, but
when accompanied with “…trail’d its wreaths”, there is a funeral and death-like imagery here with the
word “wreaths” as well as a the gasp for air that the word “breaths” requests. We can see again, that like
Friedrich’s attempt to appreciate the environment, Wordsworth creates a sense of immediacy in his
poem that really yells: Nature is dying! Do something about it!
I think that the yellowness in both these works, along with a more realistic representation of the current
state of the environment really interrogates their audience and there is a “heightened examination of
human personality and its moods and mental potentialities” as described in the Lecture Note 8. I think
what both works accomplish is really reminding the audience of how much individual potential everyone
has. Wordsworth gets at this interrogation with repeating the phrase, “What man has made of man.” He
ends the poem with the same phrase, phrased as a question: “What man has made of man?” The
responsibility is on the reader now. They have the power and potential to change the world!
But I am curious who Romantics have in mind when they broaden their work up to encompass “human
personality.” Is it truly “human personality”; is it every human? Or is it just who they deemed human?

-Israel Alonso


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