Comparing Musée des Beaux Arts and Life Cycle of Common Man
"Musée des Beaux Arts" and "Life Cycle of Common Man" share a common theme, though the imagery they use to express it is quite different. Both poems have the theme of life goes on or life stops for no one. The difference in imagery is the difference between the general and the specific. I believe that the theme of both poems lies in the same vein, but they take different paths to its development. Auden speaks more about society in general; then, he gives an interpretation of a painting as an example. On the other hand, Nemerov expresses the theme through the "life cycle" of one man, but is this one man--everyman? The "they" of Auden's poem?
In the first thirteen lines of Auden's poem, he is not speaking about how life goes on for any one person, but how it does not stop for any one. At first he speaks of the Old Masters: "The Old Masters: how well they understood its human position; how it takes place. . . ." The Old Masters were a group of painters in Belgium in the 1500s that were known for their paintings of the every day, ordinary average life. This was a radical change for the time, directing art away from royalty and the church, and into the everyday that people could relate to. The human position he is speaking of is how we are situated in the world in the most fundamental of ways. These are not our moments of triumph or failure but just our day-to-day life. We are all really in the same position. Life itself, not its quality, is the same for everyone; we are all equal participants in the human experience. It continues on relentlessly for everyone: "While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along.
. . ." How we choose to experience life is up to us, but it will continue on regardless of our choices.
At first it seems that Auden is beginning to divide people a little when he speaks of the old and the young. This really is not the case because they are both part of the same essential experience. The only difference is the distance they have traveled down life's path. While the "aged are reverently, passionately waiting / For the miraculous birth . . ." the children go on about their play, thinking of all the days ahead while the aged sit waiting and thinking about all the days behind. The only difference between the aged and the children at this point in life is their perspective.
Instead of continuing on about the subtle differences in life, Auden goes back to how life goes on everywhere no matter what. He moves out of the realm of people and into the ambiguous areas of "there" and the world of animals: "Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot / Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse / Scratches its innocent behind on a tree." He is stating that no matter what is happening around you somewhere in the world life is going on regardless of events good or bad. This human experience...