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Musée des Beaux Arts

Musée des Beaux Arts


by W.H. Auden

Musée des Beaux Arts Summary

It turns out that when bad things happen to people, other people are usually looking the other way. At least, that's what our speaker starts to think as he looks at Pieter Brueghel's "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus," a painting that depicts a lovely spring morning by the seaside…complete with a tiny pair of legs splashing around in the water. That would be Icarus. He fell out of the sky (it's a long story – read about it in the "Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay" section.)

Seeing the beautiful landscape coupled with a drowning gets our speaker to thinking. See, as far as he can tell, this Brueghel guy has got it just about perfect. Bad things tend to be surrounded by – well, by lots of good things. Sunny skies. Beautiful trees. Pretty, pretty people. With all of that good stuff around, who's going to notice when something bad is going on a few feet away?

That's not necessarily a bad thing, is it? After all, kids don't care when big events happen. At least, that's what our speaker realizes. Thinking about all the surroundings in Brueghel's painting leads him to free-think a bit about all of the ways that suffering is surrounded by the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Finally, though, our speaker pulls his attention back to the painting. You could think of this poem as a bit of a backwards logic. Usually we move from description to analysis. Here, Auden slams us with analysis before giving us context. In other words, we're forced to think about the ways that it's relevant for us before we figure out why it matters to him. Pretty nifty, huh?

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