The Monk by the Sea, by Caspar David Friedrich is easily and readily comparable to The Mad Mother. At the surface level, the description and image of the Mad Mother herself, standing atop the crag, paralyzed in loneliness, looking down at the rock and cliff and sea below her is immediately reminiscent of The Monk by the Sea, who is also looking down, paralyzed in loneliness, at the rock and cliff and sea below the Monk. The powerful whitecaps of the monk’s sea echo the “leaping torrents” of The Mad Mother line 46. The broken rock beneath the monk’s feet demands comparison to the Mad Mother’s “high crag” and her “sea-rock’s edge.”
Furthermore, the scope of the pair of pieces share certain similarities. While both the painting of the monk and the poem about the mother have a human protagonist in the title, both painting and poem are truly about the natural world in which the two exist in. The poem describes much standing atop rocks, and gazing out at the power of the sea, and all manner of natural obstacles her travels have created for her. Similarly, the eponymous monk is but a speck against the vastness of the oceanic landscape before the monk. While both appear humanist at first glance, and both appear humanist in title, both pieces show the fury and power and gargantuan scope of nature in the face of a single protagonist.
Finally, and perhaps most interestingly on the subject of comparing these works is the general sense of clarity and space that is presented to the reader and presented to the viewer. Riffing on the idea that the mother is carrying around her dead and decaying child discussed during Wednesday’s class, it is of interest to note that this theme of death and life is all but hidden within the bowels of the text. There is a lack of clarity and concreteness that leaves the poem open to interpretation. Similarly, the painting works in this nondescript, sort of hidden form. The sky in the background has strange shadows encroaching, the cliff-face the monk is standing on is ill defined. It could be a beach, or a cliff, and the whitecaps might not even be water. In both pieces there is uncertainty at the forefront.