How do the other people in the poem react to Icarus' death in "Musee des Beaux Arts" by W.H. Auden?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The second stanza of this excellent poem is where you will find the answer to your question. In this stanza, the speaker, who we imagine strolling through a museum leisurely looking at a variety of masterpieces, contemplates suffering and the indifference with which it is often met. He uses one painting in particular to demonstrate his point: Bruegel's Icarus, which depicts Icarus falling out of the sky having soared too close to the sun. He plummets to his death whilst those around him remain either unaware or choose to ignore his death. The poem says that "everything turns away / Quite leisurely from the disaster." Although the "plowman may / Have heard the splash" it was not "an important failure" for him. However, both the plowman and the ship had more pressing business to complete:

...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.

Thus the profound indifference to human suffering is characterised by this painting and the way that the death of Icarus is variously ignored or not noticed.

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