Musee des Beaux Arts

blogIcarus

When I was at university, a friend talked me through a lesson she had planned to teach using this Breughel painting and the poem by Auden.  I did not know the poem but did know the painting, called ‘Landscape with the Fall of Icarus’.  I visited the Musees Royaux des Beaux Arts de Belgique when I was in Brussels once, just to track down the painting and see it for myself.  After, the poem had more resonance and it is one I return to from time to time.

Musee des 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       

This poem is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

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