Musée des Beaux Arts
by W.H. Auden
Where It All Goes Down
OK, folks. Buckle your seat belts. This'll be a bit of a bumpy ride. Here are some of the settings that this poem brings into play:
- The Musée des Beaux Arts, a fine arts museum in Brussels, Belgium. We can tell that from the title. Funnily enough, though, Auden never mentions it again. It just sort of hangs in our minds through the rest of the poem. It's a setting that's only a setting, nothing more. Don't worry – it only gets more complicated from here.
- Sixteenth-century Belgium. That's where the plowmen come in. And maybe even the little kids skating on the pond. Definitely the ship.
- Ancient Greece. Maybe even mythic Greece. That's where Icarus, the boy flying to the sun with wings of wax, hails from. You just don't run into that every day.
- But here's the important one: the speaker's mind. See, that's where all of these wonderful worlds collide. Only a painter could pair myth with absolutely, totally ordinary. And only Auden's speaker can filter the experience of that poem through an individual's consciousness.