Friday, September 21, 2007

An Observation Poetically Expressed

The Fall of Icarus by Bruegel

Musee des Beaux Arts
by W.H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; 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;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood: They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Musee des Beaux Arts, or Museum of Fine Arts, is a poem by famed twentieth century British writer Wystan Hugh Auden that succinctly and eloquently expresses what I call the "peripherals of suffering." By "peripherals of suffering" I mean the people, places, things, and conditions that envelope the individual who suffers, unnoticeably to the rest of the world. Auden writes, " it takes place/ While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along..." Isn't this typically the case? Your world is crumbling and people go on with their lives like nothing ever happened.

The "Old Masters" Auden alludes to are the fourteenth through eighteenth century artists whose Renaissance pieces are also referred to as old masters.

Auden sites the 16th century painting The Fall of Icarus by Netherlandish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder, in which all of the characters in the painting, including a ship, carry on with their activities and fail to react to the drowning of a boy at close proximity to them. Not a single one of these subjects is disrupted or distracted from their interests by the drowning of Icarus.

Both poem and painting illustrate how at some point in time we all have found ourselves afflicted by the conditions of the small boy, or the apathetic tendencies of the indifferent.


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