I need to compare or contrast the these two poems for my essay I need help with my arguments."Musee des Beaux Arts" and "The Unknown Citizen" by W. H. Auden If I can come up with my arguments, I'm...

I need to compare or contrast the these two poems for my essay I need help with my arguments.

"Musee des Beaux Arts" and "The Unknown Citizen" by W. H. Auden

If I can come up with my arguments, I'm sure I will have no problem with the analysis.  Thanks.

 

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

First of all, if you have not done so already, you may wish to read some biographical and critical essays on W. H. Auden (see links below).  Then, after you have read these, you may find the direction that you wish to take in your comparison of the two poems.

One recurring theme of Auden's poetry which is evinced in both "The Unknown Citizen" and "Musee des Beaux Arts" is the universal apathy of the modern world and how the individual life has become marginalized.  Now, there are two approaches to the writing of an essay on this theme: 1. You can argue that the marginalization of the individual life is the theme of both poems. Or, 2. you can argue that Auden points to this theme very pointedly with satire.  The latter, an argument for technique, is a more sophisticated approach and less likely to be used by other students than the thematic one.

As there is much that you can find on your own on the thematic argument, suggestions on the satiric will be offered here:  Much disturbed by the "amoral insouciance" of people during the atrocities of his age, Auden satirizes the marginalizing of unrecognized soldiers' deaths by the erection of the monument to the unknown soldier by various governments in honor of those who conformed. Likewise the "unknown citizen" who is merely given a number is honored for his mediocrity and conformity.  

In his poem "Musee des Beaux Arts," Auden again satirizes the marginalization of the individual life, remarking that the Old Masters painted children who "did not specially want" the "miraculous birth" of Christ to happen, skate on a pond at the forest's edge, and "the dreadful martyrdom" is reduced to a corner where the "dogs on with their doggy life."  

Clearly, the insignificance that is given to occurrences such as the life of Christ and the fall of Icarus from the sea in "Musee des Beaux Arts" along with the reduction to mediocrity and insignificance given to the "Unknown Citizen" who is now a mere number, but lauded for his mediocrity, points to Auden's satire of modern life's sterile norms.  That civilization distorts, rather than ennobles man's natural impulses is certainly an innuendo of Auden's satire.

loriesutton's profile pic

loriesutton | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

apparently I didn't post the poems. The poems are Musee des Beaux Arts and The Unknown Citizen

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