Suffering is embedded in our daily lives. There are devastating things going on in our daily environments and yet, people seldom realize this as they occupy themselves with other tasks. W.H. Auden’s, Musée des Beaux Arts, is a statement on human perceptions and how we use them to observe, or block out human suffering. While we are doing ordinary things like eating, or opening a window, bad things can be happening to others and it is as easy as looking up, to see what is actually going on. Auden illustrates societies’ indifference to human suffering through the form of his poem and by alluding to artwork that compares human perceptions and juxtaposes ordinary images with images of suffering and tragedy.
The form of Musée des Beaux Arts plays an influential role in the way the poem’s content is conveyed. Auden’s poem appears to be divided into two separate parts. The first thirteen lines provide the reader with a general overview or introduction to humanities indifference to suffering. The second half, alluding to a Peter Breughel painting, provides an example of this indifference. A possible explanation as to why Auden may have separated the poem in this manner could be to first, make people stop and acknowledge humanities tendency to be indifferent to suffering. People are often so consumed with their own situations that they are ignorant to the indifference they are demonstrating. Once Auden has the reader thinking about the poem’s theme being a realistic image of the modern world he further extrapolates on this idea in the second half by providing an example of arts relationship to suffering. Without breaking the poem into sections people might remain indifferent to the point Auden is trying to make like they might miss Icarus’s drowning without breaking down all of the components in Breughel’s painting.
Musée des Beaux Arts is written in free verse, avoiding traditional rhyme and meter to represent life’s imperfect, unorganized nature. The lines are enjambed with phrases stopping in the middle of new lines and lines spilling into other lines. The lines do not pause to acknowledge the end of sentences like people seldom pause their daily lives to acknowledge the suffering of those around them. Auden also uses bad syntax in the last line of the poem, "had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.” Auden may have chosen to write in this free form to demonstrate that people are so indifferent to what is going on around them that it does not make any difference what form the poem is written in, as it will only be overlooked and not given any attention. The form of the poem allows the reader to consider the ways in which suffering is masked by the frenzy of everyday life and that even the acknowledged suffering of others does not seem to be of any concern to anybody but the sufferer.
Auden’s poem is a criticism of human perceptions and how we use them to detect, or suppress human suffering. In the first half of the poem Auden “compares...