Musee de Beaux Arts
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
W H Auden (1907 – 1973)
In this poem Auden considers suffering … it is brought to our attention in the very first line … and of course the poem is written in relation to Breughel’s Icarus painting where life goes on all around the dramatic event of Icarus falling to earth. Well life does go on for those that are not suffering … however the suffering of others does impinge on our live in some way … especially as nowadays the events of the world are so easily brought to the attention of the wide-world. I guess it is easy to get depressed with what is occurring in other parts of the world … especially so if we have some personal connection to that part of the world. So what should be our response? and how do such events effect our everyday life? These are the questions that came to my mind when reading this poem.
It would be nice to be ignorant of all the problems in the world … ‘the torturer’s horse scratches its innocent behind on a tree’ … and children go on playing while grown-ups perhaps grown too much with worldly affairs. I think this poem says something about living life at the micro level … about concentrating on where we are and what we are doing.
… and perhaps it is all a question of balance and for all the worries in the world there are far more wonderful things happening in the everyday movement of ordinary life. So for those that can sail calmly on enjoy the day!
To hear W. H. Auden read this poem go the following YouTube link … and at 44 mins 11 seconds you will here the words …
A documentary by BBC 4 on Auden and Love Poetry … http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvezOvM_VgQ