On February 21, 1907 Wystan Hugh Auden was born in York England. Auden was a poet, dramatist, and literary critic whose everyday language and conversational rhythms has had a major influence on modern poetry. Auden was initially a science major but after several years at Gresham School he realized science was not the career for his future. With the influence from Robert Medley, Auden began to write poetry. Due to this big change in Auden’s life, he enrolled in Christ Church, at Oxford. Before his departure from Gresham School Auden came to recognize his homosexuality. At the beginning of Auden writing career he had an interest in Anglo-Saxon poetry. Auden’s poetry in the 1930’s “largely constitutes a diagnosis of industrial English society in the midst of economic and moral decay.” (Bahr p. 212) In 1930 Auden began to teach school in his community. In 1935 Auden married a young lady named Erika Mann. Erika was the daughter of a German novelist. The marriage occurred only so Erika could receive a British passport. In 1939 Auden moved to America. This was a turning point in his life. Auden’s writing style “shifted away from many of his earlier intellectual convictions and moved toward a reaffirmation of his childhood faith.” (Magill p. 73) This change allowed him to write poetry that was said to influence people to Christianity.
Auden was a popular modern poet who impressive reputation was based on his technical writing and overall work. Although several critics say Auden’s writing digressed after the 1930’s, he is still a well admired poet. As expected Auden has received several literary awards. Auden received the King’s Gold Medal for poetry in 1937, the Guggenheim fellowships in 1942 and 1945 and the Pulitzer Prize in 1948. (Magill 72) Auden is a poem that can not and will not be forgot in literary history.
In 1939 Auden published a poem titled “Musee des Beaux Arts.” This is a poem about “The universal indifference to human misfortune.” (Masterplots p.1430) “Musee des Beaux Arts” talks about how individuals do not care about the suffering of one another. This poem theme is based on a painting by Pieter Bruegel called The Fall of Icarus. While in Brussels, Auden visited the Musees Royaux des beaux-arts where he was motivated by three of Bruegel painting.
. “Musee des Beaux Arts” can be paralled to the painting by Bruegel. The insignificance of Icarus fall in the ocean, displayed by his legs sticking out the ocean, seen in the bottom right hand corner, is similar to how the suffering of individuals are not important to each other. The poem is written in two paragraphs. The first paragraph consists of several broad statements. In the second paragraph there are applications for those broad statements. In the first section of the poem the word suffering is used only in the first line, in fact suffering is the first noun. This is important because the poem is “constructed to demonstrate that it is only in its own first line and nowhere else in the world that human agony receives any emphasis.” (Masterplots p. 1430) As the poem continues Auden mentions people “eating or opening a window or just walking dully along.” These statements highlight how the suffering of people does not have any effect on how others live their life. The death of a stranger will not cause one to slit a wrist. As the poem continues Auden refers to the birth of Jesus. As the first stanza comes to an ending there is reference to the crucifixion of Jesus. In the poem the crucifixion is interrupted by dogs, “the dogs go on with their doggy life” Auden uses the word doggy to “represent to childish vocabulary.” (Masterplots p.1430) Auden uses the word life rather than lives because he once again wants to emphasis the childish vocabulary. While Jesus is being tortured the torturer’s horse scratches his bottom side. . The word “behind” is used to emphasis the innocents of the children. This distracts the reader from the horrible evil deed that was being executed.
Auden uses a simple vocabulary in the “Musee des Beaux Arts” so the reader can visualize the common air. In today’s society suffering take place in such common grounds. His tone is nonchalant. Therefore the anguish of others torment is often ignored.
In the second stanza Auden speaks of the incident with Icarus falling in to the ocean. Icarus father made him some wing made of feather and wax. The wings were to be used as an escape from prison. When Icarus was give the wings his father warned him not to fly close to the sun. The sun was to hot therefore it would melt the wings. Due to Icarus disobedience, he flew to close to the sun and the wing melted. This caused him to plunge headfirst in the ocean. In the poem the death of Icarus did not have any effect on the world. Once again this is an emphasis on how human misfortunes are ignored in today’s society.
This poem is an example of “ekphrasis.” (Masterplots 1431) This means one form of art is based on another piece of art. The poem “Musee des Beaux Arts” is based on the painting “The Fall of Icarus.” The paint is about the Icarus fall into the ocean due to him flying to close to the sun. Although Icarus is the center of the story, he is not the center of the painting. Icarus in only represented by two legs in the bottom right hand corner. In the poem the suffering of others in major theme but it is not mentioned but once. The poem talks of how people are concerned about leisure activities rather than human significance.
In conclusion Auden wants one to stop worrying about fiddle de aspects of life and think about others. Auden was a very successful poet whose work is viewed and talked about though out the world. He is a modern poet who has made several contributions to our society that can not be forgotten.
Bahr, Lauen. Auden. Collier’s Encyclopedia. PE Collier’s, 1995
Macdonnell, Helen. Musee des Beaux-Arts. England in Literature. Scott, Foresman and company, 1987.
Magill, Frank N Musee des Beaux Art. Salem Press, Englewood cliffs, New Jersery, 1968
Magill, Frank N. Auden. Critical Survey of poetry. Salem Press, Englewood cliffs New Jersey, 1982
Riley, Carolyn. Auden. Contemporary literary Criticism. Volume 3. 1975