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Musée des Beaux Arts

Musée des Beaux Arts

by W.H. Auden

Choices Theme

In Brueghel's painting that Auden references, Icarus chooses to fly too high. Men choose to keep their eyes down while he drowns. Brueghel chooses to depict all of this in a painting. Auden chooses to put a pen to paper while sitting in front of that painting. See how many choices it takes to get one little poem? You might even say that everything is connected. In fact, we will. You never know which choices will be the important ones, after all – so paying attention to everything is probably never a bad option. No pressure, guys. No pressure.

Questions About Choices

  1. So much of the indifference the speaker points out in the poem seems to be natural – dogs ignoring torture, etc. How does this compare to the folks ignoring Icarus's falling? Why compare the two?
  2. Is it Icarus's fault that he drowned? Why or why not?
  3. Speaking of choices, why does this painting seem like a good example for Auden's subject matter?
  4. Do you think that being unaware of one's surroundings is a choice? Why or why not?

Chew on This

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

Auden compares versions of indifference by portraying youth and age, animals and humans, and mythic and historical figures. In so doing, he naturalizes some forms of indifference as innocence – if only to better critique the other forms.

Auden compares versions of indifference by portraying youth and age, animals, and humans, and mythic and historical figures. In so doing, he suggests that all forms of indifference are equal.

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