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Themes

Ah, highbrow poetry. How much snootier can you get than naming a poem after an art museum? Couple that with references to paintings and Greek myths, and you might think that this poem is aimed at an "in" crowd of cultural elites. But dig a little deeper, and you'll find that this here poem is about as plain-spoken and understated as you're likely to find. Why the deliberate invocation of high culture? Well, maybe Auden's got a point to make about the role of art. Didn't someone once say that art was for everyone? We're betting that Auden is soundly in that guy's camp.

Questions About Art and Culture

  1. Does it matter that the speaker uses a visit to the museum as an occasion to meditate on human interactions? Why?
  2. Does viewing Breughel's painting in conjunction with reading the poem change how you interpret Auden's poem? How?
  3. Why do you think the poem is entitled "Musée de Beaux Arts" instead of "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus"? How does this change the way you approach the beginning of the poem?
  4. Do you think that this poem is actually about the myth of Icarus? Or about Brueghel's painting? Is there a difference between the two?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Auden's "Musée de Beaux Arts" sets itself up as a perfect example of the types of moral reflection which art can inspire.

The double-remove at which the reader witnesses Icarus's drowning (mediated by both the painting and the poem) makes it difficult to feel the sort of compassion the poem attempts to inspire.

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