“Musée des Beaux Arts,” which is French for “museum of fine arts,” is a poem about the universal indifference to human misfortune. Following a series of reflections on how inattentive most people are to the sufferings of others, the poet focuses on a particular rendition of his theme: a sixteenth century painting by the Flemish master Pieter Bruegel, the Elder, called The Fall of Icarus.
W. H. Auden spent the winter of 1938 in Brussels, where he visited the Bruegel alcove of the city’s Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts. “Musée des Beaux Arts” was inspired by the poet’s fascination with the Icarus painting, as well as by two other canvases by Bruegel: The Numbering at Bethlehem and The Massacre of the Innocents. It was written in 1939, when Auden was distressed over the defeat of the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War and the acquiescence of Europeans to the ascendancy of Fascism.
The poem consists of two sections, the first a series of general statements and the second a specific application of those generalizations. Like the great Flemish Renaissance artists, the poet observes how very marginal is individual calamity to the rest of the world. Most others continue with their mundane activities without paying any attention to the kinds of extraordinary events that poets and painters usually dramatize. In particular, instead of highlighting the magnitude of that mythical catastrophe, Bruegel depicts the bizarre disaster of Icarus falling from the sky as if it were peripheral and utterly inconsequential to anything else. Oblivious to what is happening to hapless Icarus, no one and nothing—neither a farmer nor the sun nor a ship—are distracted from proceeding with business as usual.
The second section of “Musée des Beaux Arts” is an abbreviated analysis of the Bruegel work, in which the poet emphasizes how the painter composes his pastoral scene in such a way as to minimalize the significance of a boy’s suddenly plopping into the sea. Except for the obscure background detail of individual death, the landscape might seem idyllic. Auden’s point is a simple one, and, by expressing it simply, succinctly, and nonchalantly, he intensifies the horror of universal apathy.
An Explication Of W.H. Auden &Quot;Musee Des Beaux Arts&Quot;
In poetry, the use of allusions is very common. There are briefs, usually indirect references to another work or to real or historical events or persons, traditionally as a way of connecting those elements as well as enriching the meaning of the current work through associations with the other. In his poem "Musee des Beaux Arts", W.H. Auden uses allusions as a way of drawing connections between his poem, Peter Brueghel's painting " The Fall of Icarus", the myth, and the humanity indifference toward one's suffering.
Icarus, the subject of this poem, was a figure from Greek mythology. He was the son of Dedalus, who, in order to escape from prison in Crete, made two pairs of wings, one for him and one for his son, Icarus. As Icarus and Dedalus flied away, Icarus forgot his father's warning and flied too close to the sun. The wax on his wings melted and Icarus felt into the sea and drowned. The references in the poem are details from the painting. Icarus is a tiny figure; only his white legs can be seen standing out of the green water.
His fall is unnoticed by the ploughman in the foreground. The sailing ship is very near the place where Icarus fell into the water.
The myth of Icarus has inspired many artists, including painter Peter Brueghel and poet W.H. Auden. In fact, the title of Auden's poem, "Musee des Beaux Arts", is a direct allusion to Brueghel's painting "The Fall of Icarus." Musee des Beaux Arts refers to the Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels. Auden visited the museum in 1938 and viewed the painting by Brueghel, which the poem is about. The reader of the poem is placed in front of the Brueghel painting in the museum and is expected to project those images and truths to the world outside. By using a form of art (painting) by another (poetry), Auden makes a statement about people's lack of interest in the suffering of others.
In the painting, the young Icarus falls out of the sky and is swept away in death's cold embrace while the ploughman continued plowing. The ploughman did not care about the splashing sound Icarus made, when he felt into the water. Auden's allusion to the fallen Icarus in Breughel's painting is seen as a significant event as to make the point of the poem stronger: apathy of human suffering.
Like many other sonnets, " Musee des Beaux Arts" is divided into two parts. In general, the first lines of the poem explore the depth of humanities indifference to one another. Auden makes allusion to the old master painters of the museum of fine art, who were never wrong about suffering. The "old masters" understood that people often turned a blind...
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