Musée des Beaux Arts

by W. H. Auden

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Can Anyone Interpret this Poem? HELP PLEASE! Fleur Adcock "advice to a discarded lover": Think, now: if you have found a dead bird,not only dead, not only fallen,but full of maggots: what do you feel -more pity or more revulsion?Pity is for the moment of death,and the moments after. It changeswhen decay comes, with the creeping stenchand the wriggling, munching scavengers.Returning later, though, you will seea shape of clean bone, a few feathers,an inoffensive symbol of whatonce lived. Nothing to make you shudder.It is clear then. But perhaps you findthe analogy I have chosenfor our dead affair rather gruesome -too unpleasant a comparison.It is not accidental. In youI see maggots close to the surface.You are eaten up by self-pity,crawling with unlovable pathos.If I were to touch you I should feelagainst my fingers fat, moist worm-skin.Do not ask me for charity now:go away until your bones are clean.

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The theme of the poem "Musee des Beaux Arts" by Fleur Adcock is decay, and how that idea can apply to all things which be said to have "lived" in any sense, not only live creatures and plants but also relationships. She is addressing an ex-partner and asking for space, not only space for time as well. Like a dead bird, the idea of the dead relationship is ugly at first, too raw with emotional pain and hurt to even contemplate. We get the feeling the ex-partner is moving in again a little too close, a little too soon - perhaps wanting the best of worlds, freedom but not loneliness or isolation from the writer! The poet is telling him that one day she may be able to look at the relationship as coldly as a museum exhibit, admiring the "bones" of it for what they once carried.

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Okay, the main thing to understand here is what the poem is about, which is indicated by the title.  The speaker is speaking to a "discarded lover" telling them (we don't know the sex of either speaker of discarded lover) what they should do.

The speaker is saying that new, raw, emotions are disgusting and revolting.  This is just like a newly dead bird.  Once the bird has been dead awhile and rots all away, it's clean and not repulsive anymore.

The speaker is telling the discarded lover to go away and not talk to the speaker, not ask for any emotional support or anything, until the emotions are more like the clean white bones of the bird that has been dead for a long time.

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