The poem is about the death of hope. Auden is distraught over the deaths in WWII. The soldiers of WWII were teenagers. To have 55 million children dead is an act of pure genocide. To Auden the fact that people let this happen means that the world is an ugly place. Art is a thing of beauty and humans don’t deserve it because of the ugly things we do. Auden uses The Fall of Icarus to describe the way people behave. Everyone sees that Icarus has fallen but they turn their heads instead of helping Icarus. That is how WWII was everyone knew that massive amounts of people would die but they just turned their heads. This poem contains an approach to its subject different from many other poems. The subjects of many other poems -love, war, etc.- are recognized and commented on by the poets. This is not the case here, for Auden shows art’s importance by his initial comment that “About suffering, they were never wrong, the old masters,” then investigates how the Old Masters show that they were never wrong. The Old Masters don’t exactly have to represent people but I believe Auden is referring to the chorus of Oedipus. The chorus knows all about suffering and they know it shouldn’t be. This poem is also written poorly because people don’t deserve a well written poem. People don’t notice the problems because people don’t care. They don’t get the point to the story about The Fall of Icarus because they don’t care. Last a whole generation died in WWII because people don’t care.
In the painting The Fall of Icarus the “ploughman” and the “delicate ship” did not just happen to be there; they were placed in the painting by the artist for a specific purpose – with the result that to Auden the true nature of suffering is shown. The necessity for recognition is Auden’s comment on the reaction of people toward suffering in general. Certainly, the person who is being tortured realizes what suffering is, and certainly Icarus, his wings melted by the sun, knows suffering when he plunges toward the ocean. But what about the rest of humanity who are opening windows or “just walking dully along”? Even if they see forms of suffering, do they recognize it as such and feel anything? If you don’t recognize suffering and try to prevent it are you truly human? The people that walked past Icarus are the same people that closed their eyes to WWII. For Auden if no one is paying any attention to important things such as death what do they need art for. It is just like A Farewell to Arms all the people outside of war don’t feel the suffering, so they don’t care. The world is terrible because everyone is so wrapped up in their on ideas they can’t help the fellow man. When the army had the huge retreat in Farewell to Arms nobody stopped to help the injured they took machines and things that were useful to them. There was such a big rush that people trampled on each other and killed each other just to save their own lives. Soldiers are supposed to give their lives to serve others but not in the twisted world we live in. The fact that we can’t help each other means to Auden that we probably couldn’t even see the art that we could be shown.
This is a rather complex poem because what may appear to be the subject actually is not. Artists are rarely satisfied just to comment on life; instead their approach is to try to design, mold, or create some artifact (the work of art, a painting, a poem, or a piece of prose) which actually improves on life. Because many artists feel that life itself is haphazard and misleading, they attempt to make an artifact that is real and honest, without the frills and trivialities of everyday existence. In order to realize that you can do nothing about a particular human condition, you must first see it and then make up your mind. You cannot, for example, know that an accident victim is beyond all help unless you are at the scene of the accident. You cannot feel a sense of futility toward a person with an incurable disease unless you are certain that he has this particular disease. Auden doesn’t attempt to better the world through his poem he blames people for the wrong they’ve done. He uses bad grammar because he doesn’t think people have the right to perfect anything. Until the destruction is stopped people shouldn’t be looking for beauty. An example of this bad syntax is the last line of the poem. “Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on”, Auden purposely ends this poem in a preposition in order to show disrespect. Since people disrespect life Auden is going to disrespect them in art.
The old masters remind me of the chorus in Oedipus. Auden says, “About suffering, they were never wrong, the old masters,” he is saying that the old masters always knew of the suffering. The chorus also shares the death of hope because there is no hope in a world of pure suffering. The chorus tells Oedipus that suffering is something that you should try to live without. Oedipus being full of hubris had to seek out the truth which represented suffering. Humans in Auden’s mind are exactly like Oedipus they have to be bitten by the snake before they believe it is poisonous. If people would pay attention to warnings then a lot of trouble can be avoided. Oedipus didn’t listen to Tieresias’ warnings about seeking out the truth and therefore he found it and it hit him hard. Auden’s warnings have also been avoided and if the world doesn’t heed the warnings everyone will be dead. This is why Auden is being so blunt and critical because if he isn’t no one will listen the world will be over. This idea is the reason why the title of the poem is in french. If it was just called The Museum of the Arts nobody would pay attention to it. By giving it an odd name people pay attention to it more that if it was in plane english. Auden is basically doing whatever he can to draw attention to the poem because if he doesn’t then people will destroy themselves. He wrote proper sonnets and ballads trying to warn people that another war was in the making but no one listened and as a result 55 million people died. This time Auden chooses to be crude in order to grab the attention of people. Auden may be holding himself partly responsible for WWII because he believes he could have stopped it so now he is going to exert every measure in order to prevent a third war.
This poem was about the death of hope and the saving of life. Auden wants to criticize everyone for turning their backs on WWII. Through the picture of Icarus Auden shows us how cruel people can be. All the people that see Icarus suffering watch yet don’t help or pretend they don’t see what happened. People don’t need art until they can learn compassion because without compassion people can’t even see the art. Auden talks about the old masters who are the equivalent to the chorus of Oedipus. Both groups have seen suffering and are aware of the pain. They also warn people not to seek out suffering because when it hits you it will be late. Auden tried to warn the world just as Tiersias tried to warn Oedipus to stop. If you don’t stop your going to run right into that brick wall. Just like Oedipus the world is all full of hubris that makes them blind to the truth. The entire world is supporting the war being patriotic when in reality they are applauding the slaughtering of 55 million people. If you seek the truth then you will see the suffering it will hit you but you have to prepare for the hit and move on. Once you see the suffering then maybe you will see how wrong you were and then maybe people will start to save Icarus. If you can find it in your heart to save Icarus then you have the ability to see art and to Auden you are deserving to enter The Musee de Beaux Arts.
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