Allusion, Artistry, and the Fall of Icarus

"Musee des Beaux Arts" by W. H. Auden

Fall of Icarus
painted by Pieter Brueghel

Read the poem two or more times to form your general impressions. Read it aloud or have somebody read it to you at least once so that you can hear the sounds and rhythms. Then follow the directions on the next Web page for writing your reflections.

Musée des Beaux Arts (1938)
W. H. Auden (1907-1973)

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 Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the plowman 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.

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