English / Musee Des Beaux Arts

Musee Des Beaux Arts

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Autor:  anton  12 July 2011
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Words: 430   |   Pages: 2
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In the poem “Musée des Beaux Arts” W. H. Auden scrutinizes the position of human suffering in everyday life. The first stanza of the poem is a general depiction of the indifference society exhibits toward the distress of others. Opening the poem from the perspective of the “Old Masters”, the poet states that the artists of the Renaissance period understood the nature of human suffering: “How well, they understood / Its human position; how it takes place / While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along (lines 2-5)”. These lines indicate that human suffering is predominantly perceived as an individual burden, insignificant and unimportant to the rest of society. The poet notes how an extraordinary event, such as the “miraculous birth (line 7)”, seems less significant from the point of view of those who are not concerned with it: children skating on a pond. To the waiting aged, however, the miraculous birth is of utmost importance as they themselves are nearing death. Auden recognizes the details of daily life; while “someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along (line 4)”. It is during the daily activities of many people that one person is experiencing extraordinary events like dying or birth. The majority of society not directly affected continues with their daily lives “the dogs go on with their doggy life (line 13)”.

In the second stanza Auden moves from general indifference toward general tragedy, to the specific suffering of Icarus as portrayed by Brueghel’s painting. The poet uses a more ekphrastic approach and depicts, as the painting does, the ploughman continuing with his chores while Icarus succumbs to death. He describes “how everything turns away/ Quite leisurely from disaster (lines 15-16)” to underscore the indifference of the others present. Icarus’ “forsaken cry ( line17)” was possibly heard by the ploughman “But for him it was not an important failure (line 18)”, even though it was the same sun that shone on him and Icarus “white legs (line 20)” Auden then pays attention to the detail of a passing ship that observed Icarus’s plight, calling it both “expensive” and “delicate.” This illustrates that to the sailors, the death of a boy is relatively insignificant when compared to the ship and it’s impending destination “The expensive ship that must have seen/… a boy falling out of the sky (lines 20-21)”. The poem concludes after that despite the death of Icarus, the sun continued to shine and the ship sailed “calmly on” to where it had to get to.



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