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Musée des Beaux Arts

Musée des Beaux Arts

by W.H. Auden

Passivity Theme

There's a thin, thin line between innocence and indifference. Sure, kids can get away with not caring about what happens in the world around them. Heck, animals couldn't care whether or not a revolution's in the air. But what about those folks who just work too hard or have too much on their minds to know or care when something's going wrong? What about those people who just quietly mind their own business all of their lives? As far as this poem is concerned, the world might not need heroes – but it sure is just a little bit short on honest-to-goodness helpfulness and sympathy.

Questions About Passivity

  1. Is remaining unaware of things going on around you always a bad thing in this poem? How can you tell?
  2. Does this poem perform what it attempts to describe? What sorts of benefits might come from passive activities like reflection?
  3. Is using art to describe human nature just another way to passively avoid engaging with actual problems? Why or why not?

Chew on This

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

"Musée de Beaux Arts" offers a pragmatic vision of the ways innocence and passivity (or ignorance) are one and the same.

"Musée de Beaux Arts" offers an understated but persistent critique of the ways that the "natural" order of things leads people to be callous and indifferent to others' suffering.

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