Wanderer above the sea of fog – 21 March 2022

A man stands with his back to the viewer. He has climbed to the top of a mountain, and now rests on his walking cane looking out over an impenetrable sea of fog. Standing at a high point he can see other rocks and pinnacles piercing the fog to point towards the sky, which is calm and blue. In the very far distance there is a mountainous landscape. The whole scene is idealised, a metaphor for the journey of life, most of which can seem to be like travelling through fog, with moments of clarity and farsighted vision.

The picture captures the stillness in a moment of observation and reflection. The centre of the picture, focussed by two ranges of hills, is the man’s chest. His heart is the unseen visual focus of the painting. This is a painting about what it feels like in moments that are extreme because of some sort of experience, physical or emotional. It is an appropriate painting for Lent, when disciplines might raise us above the fog of the ordinary, to give us a glimpse of the long view.

The picture is ‘Wanderer above the sea of fog’ (1817) by Caspar David Friedrich. The picture captures so much that was essential to the Romantic movement. Paintings such as this one stood in contrast to enlightenment thinking concerned with logic, order and rationality. Here all is about sensibility.



Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6


Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light


Exposed on the cliffs of the heart.  Look, how tiny down there,
look: the last village of words and, higher,
(but how tiny) still one last
farmhouse of feeling.  Can you see it?
Exposed on the cliffs of the heart.  Stoneground
under your hands.  Even here, though,
something can bloom; on a silent cliff-edge
an unknowing plant blooms, singing, into the air.
But the one who knows?  Ah, he began to know
and is quiet now, exposed on the cliffs of the heart.
While, with their full awareness,
many sure-footed mountain animals pass
or linger.  And the great sheltered birds flies, slowly
circling, around the peak’s pure denial.  – But
without a shelter, here on the cliffs of the heart…

Rainer Maria Rilke, Exposed on the cliffs of the heart