Journal option #2
Choose a piece of literature, art, or music that we have not talked about in class—perhaps something referenced in one of your readings. How does this piece seem to fit the period traits? In what ways might this piece connect to the other works we’ve talked about in class? Why?
I chose artwork by Moritz von Schwind entitled ‘The Legend of the Erlking’ because it intrigued me as I was looking through the music textbook. It represents the romantic period in many aspects. Starting with the overall presentation, there is a use of pastels for the Erlking and the women of the forest. Also, there are dark tones because the setting is in the forest so the background is very gloomy. However the pastels seem to illuminate the painting; your focus is set straight to the Erlking and the women. The Erlking is reaching out for the infant in order to kill him and this life and death situation brings forth the gothic theme which is another component of the romantic era. The Erlking’s clothing is draped such that softness is introduced to give a feeling of mysticism and of a dream. The way the women are arranged calls upon dreariness and also appears very supernatural in the sense that they are not only beautiful but dangerous as well.
The matching piece to Schwind’s painting is, of course, Schubert’s Erlking. According to the music textbook, the beginning of the selection displays an urgency which is of course directly related to the steed in the painting. There are contrasts of loud and soft sounds in order to imitate certain emotions and also tells the story of the Erlking accompanying the vocalist. In the artwork, it displays the same contrast using the dark and pastels and this particular scene painted, illustrates most of the plot; the Erlking is after the child in the forest and has his beautiful women with him to further entice the child, which can be connected to the Sirens in “The Odyssey”. The Sirens were extremely sublime because they had such beautiful voices when they sing that they would cause the sailors to shipwreck and die. In the artwork you can see how the women could easily lead the child to the Erlking but it would only lead to his death. Also, in Keats’s poem, the faery woman whom seduces him sings a lullaby which could be compared to the Sirens as well.
Keats’s “La Belle Dame sans Merci” references death such as in the Erlking artwork and music selection. Grant Webster stated that “The fifth parallel is the implicit gloss of the ‘Pale Kings, and Princes too/ Pale warriors, death pale were they all’; Keats’s fallen nobility are realistically presented in the fallen magistrates … punished for the same kinds of earthly sin that beset Keats’s knight at arms.” I definitely agree with this comparison to Dante’s Inferno. The main character appears to be stuck in this state where everything is pale or has died. The artwork displays this same type of idea where this is the moment where the child is so very close to death himself and finally, in the end, is touched by the Erlking. The child is in between life and death.
These three works together do a very good job at representing the major characteristics of the Romantic period.
Webster, Grant T.; (1965). Keats's 'La Belle Dame': A New Source. MLA International Bibliography, 3, 42-47.