I must write an essay comparing the use of space in "Musee des Beaux Arts" and "Ode to a Nightengale." I completely understand the two poems individually, and can see a few comparisons between...

I must write an essay comparing the use of space in "Musee des Beaux Arts" and "Ode to a Nightengale." I completely understand the two poems individually, and can see a few comparisons between them. What I am stuck on is identifying and comparing the use of space in each. 

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "Musee des Beaux Arts," by Auden, the speaker of the poem is looking at famous paintings by the "old Masters." In these artworks, he notes that while miraculous things are occurring, other people simply go about their lives. When older people are waiting for the birth of Christ, children go about playing without noticing. While a martyr is being tortured, a horse scratches its behind. In the second stanza, while Icarus falls into the sea, the people (ploughman and those on the ship) take notice but then go about their business as if nothing shocking has happened. This suggests that when people see suffering, it is understood as a necessary part of life. Therefore, it is not a big deal when it happens, so they take notice but then go about their business.

It doesn't seem that Auden is making a critical statement about people's insensitivity in general. But one can clearly suggest that interpretation. It is the space between the spectator and the sufferer that makes it okay or acceptable for the spectator to watch and then move on. This is paralleled with the space between the speaker of the poem and the paintings he sees. He recognizes suffering and then moves on to the next painting. The space between spectator and suffering person/object creates this gap into which acceptance, understanding, tolerance, or even indifference can fill the void. 

Whereas the speaker in "Musee" is separated from suffering, the speaker in "Ode to a Nightingale" is encompassed by it. He longs to get away from the existential and mortal worries of life and death. He dreams of being away from these "Earthly" cares and therefore desires to be up, away from the Earth like the Nightingale.

The best he can do is to escape through his imagination and his poetry ("poesy"). The speaker wants to lull himself or even drink himself into another (mental) place. He wants to distance himself from his worries; he wants to distance himself from himself. These are the metaphoric and/or figurative notions of creating space or transcending to some other space/place in which suffering is eased or eliminated.

The Nightingale is born without knowledge of death and is therefore on a different plain, so to speak. This is what Keats/the speaker is after. In the end, he can not completely escape or be where the Nightingale is: "Forlorn! the very word is like a bell / To toll me back from thee to my sole self!" He knows that this way of imagining himself in this other place is not real (a "fancy"). He returns to himself, his own "space." He can then only put his thoughts and worries into poetry. This might also be considered a kind of therapeutic or cathartic putting his worries in another place. Then, we might think of someone reading about Keats' suffering in reading this poem, similar to the speaker in Auden's poem reflecting upon the paintings of suffering. Once again, space is created between the reader and the poem, just like the space between the paintings and the observer or Icarus and the onlookers.