Musee des Beaux Arts

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.

Summary of Musee des Beaux Arts

  • Popularity of “Musee des Beaux-Arts”: ”Musée des Beaux-Arts” by Wystan Hugh Auden, a prolific writer, poet, and social activist, is a descriptive poem. He composed this poem in December 1938 when visiting the royal museum of fine arts in Birmingham. The poem revolves around his mediation about the piece of art that caught his attention. It illustrates how the painter has artistically sketched the life-like and relatable images in the painting he chose to describe. Its popularity, however, lies in that it deals with the phenomenon of aesthetic beauty.
  • “Musee des Beaux-Arts”, As a Representative of Beauty: This poem is about a painting of Flemish Renaissance artist, Pieter Breughel, the Elder. The poem begins when the speaker shows amazement while looking at a piece of artistic brilliance. He wonders about the intellect of the old masters, implying their paintings reflect the exact human positions. His intense mediation leads him to comment on the indifferent approach of the people; some await and pay attention to the momentous experiences that happened in the past, while some are ignorant of what is about to happen. He feels sad that even the birth of Christ has failed to mold the hearts of the people. Even during this grand happening, the world has been lost in its charm. As the poem continues, he talks about the importance of suffering and man’s attitude toward it. He wonders how great sacrifices win showers of praise for a short period; they are easily replaced with mundane happenings going on in the world. The second stanza deals with the technique of “ekphrasis.” By using vivid verbal imagery, the speaker makes us visualize the falling of Icarus from the sky with a big splash. There might be someone who has noticed this significant happening, like a ploughman or captain of a delicate ship but no one has ever tried to trace the fact. Everything seems calm, patient, and ongoing in the picture as if nothing has happened.
  • Major Themes in “Musee des Beaux-Arts”: Artistic excellence, wonder, and man’s cold approach toward art are the major themes of the poem. On the surface level, the poem seems to be a superb description of a painting the speaker finds in an art gallery. Yet, on a deeper level, this seemingly simple piece of art conveys a tale of historical significance and man’s heartless, unsympathetic and insensitive reaction toward them. The birth of Christ was supposed to be a grand and memorable event, but here the situation was different. The poet details when Icarus fell into the ocean in a noticeable position, yet people paid no attention and preferred carrying on their routine business. Their striking response gives clues that man’s nature can never change. He will remain heartless and unkind to the occurrences of the world.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “Musee des Beaux Arts”

Poets use literary devices for special effects like Auden as shown through this analysis.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /e/ in “Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry” and the sound of /o/ in “Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.”
  2. Allegory: It is a figure of speech in which abstract ideas and principles are described in terms of characters, figures, and events. This is an allegorical poem that talks about the dark side of human nature.
  3. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /h/ in “Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry” and the sound of /r/ in “For the miraculous birth, there always must be.”
  4. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example;

Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. Auden has used imagery in this poem such as; “Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky”, “Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse” and “As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green.”
  2. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from literal meanings. “Old Masters” symbolizes the great artists who left wonders for the world and “human position” stands for the unchangeable nature of mankind.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “Musee des Beaux Arts”

Poetic devices give a good shape to a poetic piece. Some of the poetic devices used in this poem are as follows.

  1. Free Verse: Free verse is a type of poetry that does not contain patterns of rhyme or meter. This is a free-verse poem with no strict rhyme or meter.
  2. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are two stanzas in this poem with each comprising a different number of verses.

Quote to be Used

The lines stated below are useful while talking about the various sadistic occurrences happening in our surroundings, and our heartless response toward them.

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.”