Shadows of Guilt


Esther Quintanilla

I imagined the painting “Evening: Landscape with an Aqueduct”, by Théodore Gericault, while reading the ballad “The Convict”, by William Woodsworth. The opening lines of the poem alone are enough to make the connection:

The glory of evening was spread through the west;

On the slope of a mountain I stood,

While the joy that precedes the calm season of rest

Rang loud through the meadow and wood.

The painting is awfully breathtaking; there’s a glorious castle on the side of a mountain with a drawbridge connecting it to the rest of civilization. In the left corner, you can see the sunset beautifully taking place, giving a brilliant glow to the tree and drawbridge a beautiful aura. Contrasting this is the top right corner, where there are, what seems to be, storm clouds forming or the darkness of the night settling in. There are two men presented in the painting, one who appears to be a begar and another is offering help. While neither are featured in “The Convict”, because they’re both outside and free, it gives a good visual to the idea of the two men in the poem could be. Additionally, the man who is offering help parallels Woodsworth in the poem, who is visiting a convict because of his guilt. I would consider this painting to be romantic because of the way that it beautifies and personifies the sunset. Emotions are also a key element in this painting because while you are in awe of the sunset that is being presented before you, there is a period of night and darkness that is waiting to take over. The mystery of the night, as well as the beauty of the sunset, are used to add romantic elements to this artwork.

The poem, in simple terms, is about, who presumably is Woodsworth, who is visiting a lonely convict who is imprisoned inside a beautiful mountain because he feels guilty that he’s captive and wants to set him free. This poem exemplifies romanticism because it is deeply rooted in powerful emotions. From the description of the convict, “His bones are consumed, and his life-blood is dried,//With wishes the past to undo;//And his crime, through the pains that o’erwhelm him, descried,//Still blackens and grown on his view,”, to the great guilt that Woodsworth feels toward the convict, a man that he doesn’t even know the name of, “Poor victim! No idle intruder has stood//With o’erweening complacence our state to compare, //But one, whose first wish is the wish to be good,//Is come as a brother thy sorrows to share.” The powerful emotions, the regret of the convict and the remorse that Woodsworth feels for him is more than enough to constitute this poem as romantic.


“The Idiot Boy” And its Romantic ties to “The Monk by the Sea”

Dave L

The opening stanza to The Idiot Boy is reminiscent of the themes of loneliness and smallness one encounters in nature, and these themes are captured in the painting “The Monk by the Sea”.


The poem opens thus:

“‘Tis eight o’clock, – a clear March night,

the moon is up – the sky is blue,

The owlet in the moonlight air,

He shouts from nobody knows where;

He lenghtens out his lonely shout,

Halloo! halloo! a long halloo!”

Choosing to open this poem by emphasizing such a feeling of smallness in nature is meant to give perspective to the foibles depicted in the work, hence the title The Idiot Boy. We can clearly see this paralleled in the painting I named: one can imagine the small subjects past experiences being washed away by the insignificance he experiences in nature.  Any attempt to assert one’s significance in nature will yield no returns, and the asserter will be disappointed. The painting captures these themes well; in choosing to depict a religious subject (i.e. a Christian monk) it harps on the themes that the nature God created renders human foibles meaningless, an understanding that would no doubt be known to many similar monks (who chose to extricate themselves from said society). The effect is doubled by choosing to paint the subject by the sea, where his insignificance is made bare by standing next to what humans tend to perceive as infinite. The large clouds also add to this effect, in that while they are transitory, they rival the size of any King’s army. These feelings of insignificance underlie the rest of the poem. By making a bold dramatic telling of a mother in search of her retarded son, it’s almost mocking her sense of confusion and fear.

It is worth noting that these Romantic themes are persistent in modern culture because the more we know about the universe, the more we come to grips with our own smallness.


A Visual Portrayal of Grief

The second image titled “The Abbey in the Oakwood” by Caspar David Friedrich is a painting that bears resemblance to the words of the poem “We Are Seven” by William Wordsworth. In the painting, amongst the somber ruins of the church and the eerie illustration of fog (or perhaps morning dew), gravestones can be seen. It is clear that the abbey in the painting has been abandoned or it is broken down, and the state of the yard is unsettling. The gravestones reflect the two buried siblings of the little Maid mentioned in the poem. When the author asks the child about her siblings, she states that there are seven of them. The little Maid states,

“Two of us in the church-yard lie,

‘Beneath the church-yard tree”.

The painting includes many different graves, but it can be implied that two of the graves that are next to each other belong to the two deceased children. The subject of death is not a particularly happy subject, and the cold sentiment reflected in the poem enhances the feeling of loss that the mother must have gone through. The painting also includes many trees and a tree is mentioned by the child. When reading the poem, one can visualize the setting and the image by Friedrich adds a somber tone to the interpretation of the writing. When the author continues his conversation with the child, he tries to argue that there are only five siblings since two are deceased, but the child still considers them to be a pack of seven. Wordsworth writes,

“‘But they are dead; those two are dead!

‘Their spirits are in heaven!’

‘Twas throwing words away; for still

‘The little Maid would have her will,

And said, ‘Nay, we are seven!’”

The painting may be a reflection of an adult’s view of death and grief. The child in the poem is adamant on stating that there are seven siblings, as if the two deceased siblings were still alive. The author – being an adult – continues his argument with the child and he expresses his understanding of death. The little Maid represents a child’s innocence and how it is easier for them to recover from certain losses because they don’t quite fully understand the severity of the situation. On the other hand, the painting and it’s sorrowful, empty feel may be a representation of how an adult may grieve and how they have to deal with the consequences of loss to a bigger extent than a child. Children may be more accepting of death while adults often have a hard time letting people go. The sorrow, grief, and depression that arises within an adult after a great loss can be felt through the painting’s visualization. Therefore, the painting reflects Romanticism’s ability to trigger a memory within the reader/viewer and may lead them to contemplate the meaning of their own life. The painting is a possible reflection of what may go through an individual’s mind when they come across a poem that mentions a particular subject such as death in Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven”.

-Maria G. Perez

Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), The Abby in the Oakwood, 1808-1810

Lyrical Ballads: a word is worth a thousand pictures

For this Wednesday’s blog post (4/17), students will use ONE of the four paintings below as a lens for interpreting ONE of the poems from the Lyrical Ballads (except “Tintern Abbey” and the “Ancient Mariner”), pages 47-147.  What does the painting’s form, color, perspective, and setting reveal about the Romantic themes, ideas, and feelings conveyed in your chosen poem?  Evidence for your argument will be based on a specific close reading of the painting and poem.  Be bold and daring: use your imagination!!!

Please categorize your post under “The Romantic Turn” and don’t forget to create specific and relevant tags.  The post is due by 9:30am Wednesday (4/17).  And please sign your posts so that your TA and I know who wrote what.

Warning: students who don’t submit their post on time or edit their blog post after the submission deadline, will not receive a grade (a “0”).

Théodore Gericault (French, 1791–1824) Evening: Landscape with an Aqueduct, 1818

Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), The Abby in the Oakwood, 1808-1810

Caspar David Friedrich, The Monk by the Sea, 1809

Joseph William Turner (1775-1851), Buttermere Lake : A Shower, 1798

Exoticism of the Lower Class through Wordsworth’s “We are Seven”

The Romantic era sought beauty in the natural world as a way of responding to the industrial boom that modernized the western world. However, it did not only mean that people were focused on looking toward the horizon for beauty, or searching for the meaning of life in a mountain range, it also meant that literature, art and beauty would be more democratic. It meant that there was a complexity to the lives of the poor working class, and they too were able to express themselves poetically. With that being said, William Wordsworth is one of the pioneers who tried to incorporate the connection poor people had to the world. In his poem, “We Are Seven” there are class markers that the speaker of the poem identifies in the first stanza that mark the subjects of the poem, and even exoticizes them. The first line of the poem sets the tone by beginning with “A simple child” and this signals images in the reader’s imagination immediately about how to understand the family and domestic quality in the poem. Another class marker is when the speaker describes the the little “cottage girl” in stanza two, and these markers help to put into perspective how the cryptic moments in the poem are inherently tied to the class status of the family.  The little girl seems to be confused about what the title of the poem suggests, which is that she believes there are seven people in her household when in fact some of the members have actually died. The speaker of the poem seems to be conflicted about the “cottage” girl’s blissful ignorance because of her “simple” way of understanding the world–which seems to exclude the idea of passing away.

The painting by David Caspar Friedrich, “The Abbey in the Oakwood” is a romantic era painting that embodies the idea of nature vs civilization, but it is also the negotiation between these two concepts in a coexisting manner. This reminds me of how the little girl says “two of us in the church-yard lie” in stanza six when she is referring to their grave sites, which are described as being “green” in stanza ten. This seems to be a deliberate way of assigning a lively color like green to a gravesite, which is obviously to keep the dead. There seems to be a duality here that is much like the painting where wee see a dead trees and an incomplete building because it has been abandoned. However, we still get the natural world working–the painting gives it life as a way of accepting the passing of things a part of the circularity. Although the painting is a little more cryptic, it definitely parallels the poem on how death seems to be in constant movement with nature, and ultimately man.

This duality of death and life looks kind of cryptic when it is attributed to the status of the poor. This could have something to do with the idea of not having tombstones adorned like aristocratic people did, as Wordsworth has alluded to in another poem, but it also has to do with the way in which the Romantics like Wordsworth and Coleridge looked to democratize the poor in conversation with the mainstream. In other words, they tried to de-marginalize the poor by including them in the center of their works. It is actually pretty marxist of them to do so, but it is also shows the gaze that is inevitable when people who do not belong to the working-class try to speak for them. To attribute death and its circularity to the working class shows more about Wordsworth’s gaze, than it might about poor working class people. The painting by Friedrich demonstrates a sort of othering that is attributed to these forgotten or “abandoned” people, as I have mentioned. By looking at this painting, it could be said that Wordworth looked at poor people in this way; he might have found them to be deserving of being brought into the mainstream of culture, but in a way he is also not one of them so he, in effect, has also exoticized them. romantic image 2

Cesar R

From your mother to the good and bad

I’d like to start by saying that when looking at Lines Written in Early Spring (page 102) and the image by Caspar David Friedrich, The Monk by the Sea, together as one, it makes the poem appear as if it’s coming from mother nature, as if Earth was its own entity reflecting on humans and our progress on Earth.

In line one, it says “I heard a thousand blended notes,” which can be seen in the white sky that has a mixed texture. This could represent the notes also being mixed if paper could actually mix that way–but that’s the beauty of it because here it is. Lines 2 and 3 also say “In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts bring sad thoughts to the mind,” here, we could also interpret the sky as that changing of thoughts, where the sky is white, the pleasant thoughts, literally blend with the dark, the sad thoughts.

In stanza 2 lines 7-8 it says, “And much it griev’d my heart to think What man has made of man,”  this line really took over the image for me and made me reflect on how I needed to come to Merced, a place that sometimes feels is as empty as in this painting (coming from a city such as Oakland, there’s no real empty space, and there’s like an abundance of empty space here–not that it’s a bad thing, it’s just ), in order to be able to reflect on the impact we, human beings, have made–which has been anything but good to the environment. Point being, the painting could be the point that mother nature decides to reflect on how we’ve developed.

That is like how in the earlier lines I mentioned where pleasant thoughts bring sad thoughts. Throughout the rest of the poem, it is admiring its surroundings of birds and the breeze, which shows an appreciation of this space, though not reflected in the painting, because it is a beach, we can easily assume that there are these elements at this moment. But while there is an appreciation for this moment we’re in, there’s a slight inevitable part of us that can’t help but reflect on where we come from, which is probably not a place as serene as a beach–if you like the beach, at least.

What do you see?

The painting that stood out the most to me was “Evening: Landscape with an Aqueduct” by Theodore Gericault. This painting compared to the others is very clear, this is important because it shows the immense effort (shading, shapes, colors and geometry) put in to it the. The other paintings are very vague, which for the viewer is a good thing because then they (the viewer) use their own interpretation of what it means, and every viewer has a different story. But it also makes it hard for them to understand what the artist’s intentions were. For me “Evening” tells a story of a traveler, who wishes to understand the this world where society is slowly taking over nature, and in understanding it there comes a realization that humans are becoming dependent on nature.

The use of imagery in “The Tables Turned” reminds a lot of this picture. The colors in this pictures stick out to me the most, so when the poem mentions….

“The sun above the mountain’s head,

A freshening lustre mellow

Through all the long green fields has spread,

His first sweet evening yellow.”

It gives a perfect interpretation of sky in the “Evening”. Also something I notice in the picture is how there are only certain parts of the landscape that are hit by the sunlight, one of them being a small tree to the right. This tree serves as a parallel to the “wisdom” that the speaker compares with the books.

“Books! ‘tis a dull and endless strife:…

Come forth into the light of things,

Let Nature be your teacher.”

The tree in the picture represents the mind, so when you let your mind open and “into the light” you (the tree) grow intellectually. Another part of this poem that corresponds well with this image is..

“Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:-

We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;”

These lines really resonate with my initial idea of human dependence on nature. In the middle of the image we see buildings and an aqueduct which represent human colonization on this land. And behind the small village there is a mountain, which has a distinctly perfect rectangular shape, which counter argues the line “mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things” in satiric way, because nature is supposed to random and irregular not perfectly symmetrical.

-Ravneet Dhillon

Gloomy and Empty

romantic image 3Looking at the painting The Monk by the Sea I initially see a person standing in a vast surrounding that is gloomy and empty. This kind of perspective can be seen in The Complaint of a Forsaken Indian Woman because the poem describes a mother who’s child will be taken from her and is going to be left behind. As stated,

“My child! They gave thee to another,

A woman who was not thy mother.

When from my arms my babe they took,

On me how strangely did he look” (139)!

The image itself can be seen literally of the Indian Woman alone since she was abandoned or it can also be seen figuratively  because of the gloomy and empty emotions the woman is feeling after having her child taken from her. Because the person within the picture is a darker shade as to blend with the background it also symbolizes how she’s being consumed by the gloomy and empty emotions. Lastly, there’s a lot of fog, or what appears to be fog, surrounding the image, which further suggests an unforeseeable future for the woman since these foggy details also obscure any other details, some that may be lively with bright colors or have a promising outcome for what she’s endured.

-Kristy Frausto

A Lake of Despair, A Sky of Repair

The setting of the painting by Caspar David Friedrich, The Monk by the Sea, can be described in the poem “The Thorn” because the speaker is standing on the mountain edge, describing the nature surrounding them,”High on a mountain’s highest ridge, / Where oft the stormy winter ridge / Cuts like a scythe, while through the clouds / It sweeps from vale to vale” (103). I thought the description of the scenery was similar to the painting because the figure in the painting is standing on a rocky ground. I could picture the rocky ground being the edge of a mountain cliff above a dark blue sea. The ocean is an ebony black while the sky is gray but you can see a hint of sunlight that illustrates that the sun is hiding from view. In addition to the difference in height, the sharp color contrast between the ocean and sky makes the painting seem more mysterious because the scenery conveys a miserable, empty sea but a hopeful sunrise. It is as if the mood of the painting is cut between the sea and the sky which is where the simile, “Cuts like a scythe,” seems to apply.

The background surrounding the ocean looks as if it could be a snowy forest with mountains further away due to how the dark green and black shaded objects rise above the ocean but the wide light gray peaks manage to touch the sky, “You must take care and chuse your time / The mountain when to cross. / For oft there sits, between the heap / That’s like an infant’s grave in size”(105).

It could also be that the dark murky waters are not a sea but a lake, “And that same pond of which I spoke.” The small figure standing in the middle of the painting overlooking the lake and mountains could also be a woman because we only see the back of their body which is obscured by the cloak they are wearing and the poem describes a character similarly, “A woman in a scarlet cloak, / And to herself she cries, / Oh misery! oh misery! / Oh woe is me! oh misery!” (105). The woman in the poem is in despair because her lover has abandoned her and her unborn child. The painting reflects the mood of the poem because the woman is in a mentally, emotionally and spiritually dark, depressing place. The cloak blends in with the lake as if to demonstrate that the woman is surrounding herself with this negative energy of loss and grief especially since in some cultures, water represents life. Therefore, she has disrupted the flow of life due to killing her baby.

-Ana Diaz-Galvan