Dead trees on top of gravestones, with a degrading abbey parting the painting in the middle. That is; Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), The Abbey in the Oakwood, 1808-1810. Just like the little cottage girl’s dead siblings, the headstones are in front of the church;
“Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the church-yard lie,
Beneath the church-yard tree.”
Friedrich’s painting showcases headstones in front of the church.
Now that’s the most obvious comparison, let’s dig deeper. The girl’s ‘rustic, woodland air’ can also be used to describe the painting. It looks like its right next to the forest, but a bomb went off. The smell of the dead trees, the wood overtakes everything. “Till God released her of her Pain”, the painting shows an abbey, where the monks and nuns live and congregate. Of course there is a graveyard, cause where do people go after they die? To heaven, with God. Of course the child negates this, and well believes that her siblings are still alive.
“———A simple Child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death? “
I found the first stanza possibly the most hard hitting from the poem. What does a child possibly know of death, they are so small, so minuscule, so full of life, how could they know of death. The painting shows a broken down abbey, dead trees, and among them the bodies of the dead. The painting is death incarnate, with the people being processed in the middle. Are us adults any different than children? What do we know about death, anymore than a child does. An adult praying for the soul of deceased family member is no different than a child playing along the tombstones where their sibling is buried. The quote out there exists that you die twice, once when you die, and the other time when your name is last mentioned. Keeping the memories of our deceased, is keeping them alive, with us.
The painting highlights our human understanding of death, the basics, the crude rituals, and it confines it to a small space. The vast, almost limitless top half mocks the bottom half for how claustrophobic it is. Maybe it casts a dark shade over the humans, for their lack of understanding, and their ability to never truly see above the trees into the light. Nature could also be the true winner here, as the abbey (probably once very beautiful) now looks very similar to the trees. Nature laughs at us, and sees our futile attempts to outlive it with buildings and tombstones. Isn’t crazy that the painting is split in half, like how still water gives off a reflection. Do we humans need to reflect on our understanding of death? Of life? Of religion?. Is the painting reflecting the tombstones into the sky? Does heaven exist? Only two things are certain, death and taxes