Category Archives: Friedrich, Caspar David

“They have not chosen me,” he said

Monk By The Sea, 1810, Caspar David Friedrich
Background Image: Monk By The Sea, 1810, Caspar David Friedrich

This poem could also be called “The Prayer of the Fifth-Wheel”. Anyone who has been part of a group of friends consisting of couples while you are single has experienced the frustration of being left behind so that the couples can go off together. Emotions can range from jealousy to anger to depression and can leave a person feeling abandoned. I think Emily is expressing this here.

At the heart of the poem is a desire to be “chosen”, yet like Jesus who had “chosen” his apostles, they abandoned him at the darkest hour. In John 15: 16 Jesus says, ” You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” Emily seems to be saying that what she has is what will last and that if the person she feels abandoned by would just call upon her then all would be well.

It’s interesting that she is comparing the words Jesus spoke with her own feelings, though she admits that she hasn’t “dared” the way Jesus did in calling anyone out for their (supposed) failings. Emily suffers alone and can only share in the solace of her “Sovereign”, but she is able to speak through her poem.

And why is it that she is only speaking through her poetry? The previous poem, “For every Bird a Nest“, deals (perhaps) with her conflicted feelings about aspiring to greatness and fame through her poetry, or remaining humble and “modest” by staying true to the art and working without the temptations of vanity and personal glory. Emily seems to be constantly weighing the pros and cons of her actions and, because she has such a brilliant mind, she can see both sides of the issue and she seems to always err on the side of not making a fuss and remaining “modest”.

Yet a poem like this I believe expresses the desire in her for more, a desire to be seen and included and not allow people to abandon her. And while the results of her turmoil have been the fruits of genius poetry, it’s hard not empathize with her and her longing for something more personnel.

I also wonder if perhaps because she was someone with an intensity of feelings, that she might have been frustrated that others didn’t share the same feelings as her. Emily seems like she could hardly walk past the meekest flower without her heart reaching out to it, and maybe she expected others to feel the same way? Of course most people do not feel this intensely – at least not most of the time – and so she can make a comparison to Jesus who loved everyone intensely but whom wasn’t shown the same intensity of feeling at all times, especially when it mattered the most. Perhaps Emily just loved too much and was unable to understand why regular people are able to manage their emotions better.

I suppose this is the curse of the poet in that they can’t help but feel.