One of my favorite assignments is a variation on "Description," in the Intermediate level of my Progymnasmata Tutorial series. I present it this way, after suggesting two other paintings (students are welcome to choose their own as well):
Now describe one of these paintings, or a character in the painting, in such a way as to illuminate the painting or the character so that a casual observer takes a second and third look. You may limit yourself to just the information given by the painting itself, or bring in things you know about Wycliffe, for instance, or about the history of the boat painting. Limit your work to under 300 words.
Today I enjoyed one student's response that I want to share with you. Kiernan Presler-Marshall, grade 8, chose the painting "The Polar Sea," by Caspar David Friedrich, reproduced above. His description makes excellent use of language in many ways, and though it could use another polish, it's worthy to post here as is:
Sheets of ice, sharp and cold as the executioner's ax, rise into the sky, stabbing for the heavens. With a grinding crunch, these two icy monsters collide, shattering with force and throwing slivers high into the air. The ice raises itself above its kingdom, stabbing like knives into the sky.
As far as the eye can see, the land is a freezing desert, windswept and empty. Nothing moves, but for the snow which blasts by like an icy sandstorm. The world is bathed in silence, save for the shrieking of the wind as it winds its way around the icy towers. With nothing to slow it, it speeds up incredibly, throwing snow to the sky and forcing everything to bow before it. The clouds above have been shredded into rags by the wind. They split to reveal the sun, though it does nothing to melt the wastes of ice. If anything, it makes them more forlorn, a place which not even the sun can warm. On the horizon, if that is what it is called in a place where distances have no meaning, mountains of ice rear from the wastes like primeval monsters, quickly frozen as they awoke from their slumber.
The ship, sturdy as it was, could not stand the force of the crushing ice, Becoming part of the ice sheet which was its doom. Splintered spars of wood litter the ice, silent grave markers for the men who once sailed the seas in the now deceased ship. The crew of the ship, once brave explorers, are now frozen into the ice which ended their journey. Together they will rest through the ages, waiting, always waiting.....