The theme of the poem is that universal apathy to human suffering causes tragedy and pain. Auden attempts to showcase the consequences of such unfeeling behavior through the imagery of his poem. Written in a innocent, simple style, Auden’s poem is much more accessible than many of the other major poems of the modern period. Blunt and direct, this style highlights the indifference of humanity all the more. Readers of poetry are, by definition, attentive. For any reader appalled by widespread failure of attention, “Musée des Beaux Arts” is, like the plop of young Icarus into the green water, indelibly etched in the mind.
Throughout, Auden observes how individual suffering is ignored by the rest of the world. Most people continue with their everyday lives without paying any attention to extraordinary events going on, the kind that poets and painters usually depict. In particular, Bruegel shows the bizarre tragedy of Icarus falling from the sky as if it were utterly inconsequential to anything else. Oblivious to what is happening to Icarus, no one is distracted from proceeding with business as usual.