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Critical appraisal of Musée des Beax Arts by W. H. Auden.

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Candidate No 030686 Critical appraisal of Mus�e des Beax Arts by W. H. Auden Mus�e des Beax Arts was first published in 1940. It is a response to tragedy and the apathy with which humans can view suffering. The title is a reference to the Mus�e des Beax Arts in Brussels. Auden visited the museum in 1938 where he viewed the painting by Brueghel, which is referred to in the second poetic paragraph of the poem. The use of the classical works of art together with the classical tale of Icarus gives Auden's message about the treatment of tragedy a timeless quality showing to be true of human behaviour regardless of era or culture. Auden's poem juxtaposes ordinary events with extraordinary events to demonstrate the way that life usually continues on regardless of an extraordinary event. The poem first discusses the "miraculous birth" and then the "dreadful martyrdom" of Christ, before going on to discuss the tragedy of Icarus. The poem begins quite abruptly as though part way through a story. The use of the word "they" in the first line creates suspense, as the reader is not sure to whom the narrator is referring to. The use of enjambment in the first few lines creates a knowing, almost didactic tone to the poem. So the reader instantly accepts what it is being told by the narrator. Auden's reflection about the "human position" of suffering is communicated both in the mundane actions described and by the slow rhythm of the line. ...read more.


Next Auden refers to the crucifixion of Christ. This extraordinary event occurs in ordinary surroundings where "the dogs go on with there doggy life" and is performed by an ordinary person. By avoiding grandiose descriptions of the crucifixion and instead emphasising insignificant details Auden diminishes the impact of the extraordinary event of Christ's crucifixion and puts the reader in the position of the children from the previous lines. Auden makes the "torturer's horse" more interesting to the reader by the comical image of it scratching "its innocent behind on a tree". The charming language in the description of the dogs going on with their "doggy life" also distracts the reader from the crucifixion of Christ. The actions of the animals also serve to demonstrate the irrelevance of Christ's crucifixion to them, showing life continuing in its regular fashion for them. The poem is split into two sections similarly to a sonnet, although the form of the poem is certainly not that of a Petrarchan sonnet. The poem is actually written in free verse with varying line lengths and an irregular rhyme scheme, this form helps to create the casual conversational tone of the poem. The first section introduces Auden's theme and takes examples from the life of Christ, while the second section talks more specifically about the tragedy of Icarus as depicted in Brueghel's painting. The change in focus of the poem is similar to the change of thought typical of a Petrarchan sonnet. ...read more.


The use of enjambment on line seventeen causes the audience to consider the possibilities of what will follow "the sun shone". Due to the role of the sun in Icarus' demise it seems possible that the comment on sun will be of some significance, however as before with the reference to the "miraculous birth" the actual comment is insignificant and emphasises the way that life just continues regardless of the tragedy. The portrayal of the ship as "expensive" and "delicate" creates the impression of the ship as valuable, contrasting with the description of Icarus to the extent that it seems possible that the narrator is suggesting that the ship is more valuable even than Icarus' life. The narrator describes Icarus' plummet as "Something amazing" but describes his death as " a boy falling out of the sky". There is a lack of empathy and the notion seems almost comical. Still the ship "Has somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on", Auden's use of the word "calmly" emphasises the disregard of the ship concerning Icarus and the continuation of the ship's course despite the tragedy it has witnessed. Auden's assessment of human reaction to tragedy is as true for today as it was for the subjects of Brueghel's painting, The Fall of Icarus. However it is unclear whether this continuation of life regardless of tragedy is to be viewed as a callous lack of concern or a sensibly rational acceptance. Word count:1489 ...read more.

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