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Mus é e des Beaux Arts. About the Poem. Written by W. H. Auden. “Mus é e des Beaux Arts” means “Museum of Fine Arts”. It is a lyric poem. No pattern in rhyme scheme. Written in free verse. There is enjambment throughout the poem. Contains two stanzas. Lines 1 - 4 .

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about the poem
About the Poem
  • Written by W. H. Auden.
  • “Musée des Beaux Arts” means “Museum of Fine Arts”.
  • It is a lyric poem.
  • No pattern in rhyme scheme.
  • Written in free verse.
  • There is enjambment throughout the poem.
  • Contains two stanzas.
lines 1 4
Lines 1 - 4
  • These lines are about the individuality of suffering.
  • Suffering can happen at any time with no effect on others.
  • The Old Masters are the great European painters from the twelfth century up to the nineteenth century.

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;

lines 5 10
Lines 5 - 10

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

  • Older people have accepted death as a part of life and are waiting patiently for it.
  • Children are afraid of death, but they know it must happen eventually.
lines 11 13
Lines 11 - 13

Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot

Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturers' horse

Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

  • Allusion to Brueghel’s painting that is mentioned in the second stanza.
  • These lines are the transition into the second stanza.
  • End of the first stanza.
lines 14 21
Lines 14 - 21

In Brueghel’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.

  • The second stanza provides an example for what is happening in the first stanza.
  • Brueghel‘s "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus“
  • Brueghel was a Genre painter whose works depicted the lower class or ordinary people doing everyday things. Suffering is an everyday thing that everyone goes through, so it made sense to pick this painting and artist.
lines 14 21 continued
Lines 14 – 21 Continued
  • Icarus is in the water and drowning is because of the story of Icarus.
  • The ploughman and the ship were too busy or did not care that Icarus was drowning.
  • This stanza is an example for how individual suffering has no effect on the world.
my interpretation
My Interpretation
  • The theme throughout "Musée des Beaux Arts" is how the individuality of suffering has no effect on the rest of the world, but also how suffering should have an effect on the world.
  • All of the people in the second stanza and the painting turn their heads away from Icarus' cries for help because they don’t want to get involved or they simply don’t care.
  • Auden's diction in the last few lines is almost accusing the ship for not helping the drowning Icarus because they must have seen him.
  • Perhaps the suffering of others should effect the rest of the world.
thoughts from literary critics
Thoughts from Literary Critics
  • Many critics agree with my interpretation of the poem.
  • Hochman writes, "Critics, and apparently Auden himself, understand the first stanza as a statement of generality and the second as an example of that generality…" (Hochman).
  • "Is this poem about acceptance (comedy) or rejection (tragedy) of the privacy of suffering? Now it can be said that the poem is about both" (Hochman).
thoughts from literary critics1
Thoughts from Literary Critics
  • I did not agree with a few critical interpretations of the poem.
  • Hsu writes, "The first stanza, in fact, details a stroll down a corridor of the museum, past several paintings of the "Old Masters" depicting scenes of hope and suffering such as the birth and martyrdom of Christ" (Hsu).
  • Hsu believes that the entire poem is about walking around a museum and how no one ever has enough time to look at each painting in a museum.
concluding thoughts
Concluding Thoughts

"Musée des Beaux Arts" provides a look into the singularity of suffering, what effect it has on the rest of the world, and what effect it should have. Auden employs an exceptional use of imagery by referencing Brueghel's painting. While critics have similar and different views than me on this poem, I believe my reading of the poem is correct. Overall, "Musée des Beaux Arts" is an excellent poem that everyone can relate to in some way.

works cited
Works Cited
  • Auden, W. H. Musée des Beaux Arts. Classroom Packet.
  • Hochman, Jhan. "An overview of “Musée des Beaux Arts”." Poetry for Students. Detroit: Gale. Literature Resource Center. Web. 26 Apr. 2010.
  • Hsu, Hsuan L. "Auden's 'Musee des Beaux Arts.'." The Explicator 57.3 (1999): 166+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 26 Apr. 2010.