Abbey in an Oak

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Caspar David  FriedrichAbbey in an Oak, 1809-1810
By GARY WHITTAKER

"Not a Mass will be sung then,
Not a Kaddish will be said,
Nothing sung, and nothing spoken,
On the day when I am dead."
           "Romanzero," Heinrich Heine

In Freidrich's most haunting painting, a lone abbey stands among a grove of dead oaks. The sole inhabitants, graves, the corpses interned with in, and the constant air of death. Nothing stirs in this painting, even the living monks seem frozen in place. Upon the shoulder of the groundskeepers sits a coffin, unfortunately for the deceased, the monks carry him deeper into the painting; deeper into that hazy, ethereal back ground.

"But perhaps another day
When the weather’s mild, serene,
My Matilde will go walking,
In Montmartre, with Pauline."  

Perhaps hope may still be found for our dearly departed friend. The only concrete objects are the dead trees and abbey; the abbey and oaks, reach into the unknown of the gray sky. Death, while grounded in our mortal, extends beyond our comprehension. What awaits us in that gray void will remain unknown till we cross. The By-and-By awaits us all, but take comfort, it may deliver you unto paradise unknown.

"With a wreath of immortelles,
She’ll come to dress my grave,
And she’ll sigh: ‘Oh, poor man.’
That moist sadness in her gaze. "

We the view only have the privilege of acting as voyeurs to the transaction depicted here; Frederich allows us this glimpse. This view must be utilized to its full extent. Take head in the lessons taught by these graves and ghosts, for one day you will join them in their macabre lecture.

*suggested listening: "Der Leiermann," by Franz Schubert

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