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Musée des Beaux Arts

Musée des Beaux Arts

by W.H. Auden

Heroic Ends

Symbol Analysis

There's a heap of references in "Musée des Beaux Arts" to folks who think big…and end badly. Like Icarus. And the martyrs. Here's what we mean:

  • Line 9: See? We promised you martyrs. Notice, though, how the vagueness of this reference doesn't allow you to think that a person is suffering because of one thing or another. They're just…suffering. Which makes the feeling a bit more universal.
  • Line 11: Hehe. OK, this isn't exactly a heroic end. In fact, it's just a horse's "end." But it sure does lighten up the mood! Plus, it's a huge, huge contrast to the big, heavy stuff happening behind the scenes – which makes that stuff (like torture) seem all the more unnatural.
  • Line 15: We don't even really know that it's Icarus in the water at this point, do we? Auden tends to back into his allusions, allowing us to see what's happening before he lets us know exactly what it's all about.
  • Line 17: More of the same. A decryption without and references. It's actually quite the opposite of how you usually hear about heroes or mythic figures, right?
  • Line 19: Even now, once we've heard the whole story, Icarus is just "a boy." He could be anybody. That's not exactly the sort of treatment that mythmakers usually get. Maybe that means that there are no more heroes. Or maybe it just means that anybody could be in his shoes. Or, er…wings.

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