February 21: Happy birthday, Mr. Auden

"Landscape with The Fall of Icarus", ca. 1590-95, by Pieter Breugel the Elder

“Landscape with The Fall of Icarus”, ca. 1590-95, by Pieter Breugel the Elder

In celebration, here is Wystan Hugh Auden‘s poem about Breugel’s painting (above).

Musée 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.

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“Musée des Beaux Arts” is my favorite of Auden’s poems; I’m suppose it’s almost everybody’s favorite (if they read him), but I love it dearly so I won’t pretend to be original. It has everything I need – poetry, painting, death and survival. That first line has been stuck in my head forever.

Click here for a much larger version of the painting. The Breugel images are from Wikimedia Commons and are in the public domain.

Happy equinox!

harvesters
Here’s a perfect end-of-summer picture: Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s “The Harvesters,” courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (www.metmuseum.org). I love that gold and silver haze. Click here to see a much larger version.