How can I write 2 critiques of Auden's poem "Musee des Beaux Arts," the first from the perspective of John Donne and the second from the perspective of Ebenezer Scrooge? “About suffering they...

How can I write 2 critiques of Auden's poem "Musee des Beaux Arts," the first from the perspective of John Donne and the second from the perspective of Ebenezer Scrooge?

“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.


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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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W. H. Auden's "Musée des Beaux Arts" is a poem that exemplifies the literary technique of ekphrasis, the embedding of one type of art form inside another. Thus, in this verse of lyrical rhyme, Auden makes comment on how in a Bruegel painting at the museum the mundane clashes with the monumental as people dully persist in their trivial activities, ignoring the noble tragedy that takes place near them as the mythological Icarus plunges from the sky into the sea: the farmer continues to plow his field eyes upon the dull earth or the sailor looks out onto infinite nothingness of wave upon wave while near him the man who would be a god drowns.

______________________Perspective of Ebenezer Scrooge:

Before the visits of the three ghosts of Christmas, Ebenezer Scrooge, whose existence is absorbed into the acquisition of wealth to the exclusion of all the nuances of feeling and the beauty and heroism of life and humanitarianism. This lack of emotion in Scrooge is similarly exemplified in this line from Auden's incongruous observation:

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along 

Additionally, a young Scrooge demonstrates the dull indifference described in the last four lines of Auden's poem--

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--

as he toils over his account books while his once beloved "fair young girl" remarks, "Another idol has replaced me" (Stave II, A Christmas Carol) In fact, Scrooge ignores relatives, holidays, the "martyrdom" of the poor and sick, and brotherly love for the sake of gaining his fortunes.

Therefore, Scrooge would deprecate the significance of Icarus's fall from the heavens, lauding instead the farmer at the plow, the sailor at the helm, and mitigating any significance to the fact

That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot

______________________Perspective of John Donne:

Indeed, a comparison between John Donne's metaphysical conceits and the classicism of the flight of Icarus can be made. Rather than giving a deprecation of the noble tragedy, Donne would exalt the death of Icarus, likening it to the conquering of the proud but ineffectual tyrant of his Holy Sonnet 10 ("Death be not proud...."), for Icarus has momentarily conquered the skies, and, though he plunges into the sea, he will "wake eternally" in the memory of many just as he is immortalized in Auden's poem.

Thus, the farmer and the sailor of the Bruegel painting, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus give little attention to Icarus's death not so much because it is insignificant to them, but because it is, as Donne writes, but "[O]ne short sleep past, we wake eternally/And death shall be no more" as Icarus is immortalized in the painting.  

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