Explain the relationship between art and life in this poem.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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W. H. Auden's poem "Musée des Beaux Arts" establishes a relationship of incongruity between the classical and monumental recorded by art against the mundane.

The second half of the poem refers, through the poetic device of ekphrasis, to the painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by describing graphically the theme of the fall of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun. The painting is placed within a humble, more modern setting of a peasant farmer, who is plowing his field and who gives no notice of what happens just below his field, and a ship, which is passing in sight of the plunge of Icarus into the sea without steering off course.

Auden's poem presents the conundrum of art's ability to be significant in a world of mundane apathy.

...how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster... 

In a momentous fall, Icarus is unnoticed and unmourned as the sun, which melted his wax wings, continues to shine without any qualms. Thus, Auden underscores what Belgian painter Pieter Bruegel has done; namely, attempt to draw attention to universal disregard.


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