Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bruegel: Auden's Thoughts (1939)

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (Pieter Bruegel, 1558)

Pieter Bruegel painted Landscape with the Fall of Icarus in 1558 while living in Antwerp. It is a small painting, only 29 x 44 inches (74 x 112 cm). We may see it in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels.

W. H. Auden was a poet. He was born in York, England, in 1907; graduated from Oxford University in 1928; moved to the United States in 1939; and died there in 1973. Just before Auden left Europe for America, he went to Brussels and saw Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Bruegel. In response, he wrote the poem, “MuseĆ© des Beaux Arts.”

In that poem, he asks us to see “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;…/…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” (published in Another Time, 1940).

In other words, Auden asks us to see that other people do not care about Icarus. They do not care even if he dies. Indifference is one word for this lack of caring. What do we think about this indifference, this lack of caring, toward the suffering of others? Is it normal? Is it good? Is it true of us? Should it be?

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.