Musee des Beaux Arts

"The Old Master's; how well they understood it's human position". In Musee des Beaux Arts by W.H. Auden, the "Old Master's" understood that people often turned a blind eye to one another's suffering. It uses an analysis of one art form (paintings) by another (poetry) to make the statement about people's lack of interest in the suffering of others. The poem explores the depth of humanities indifference to one another.
The "Old Masters' understood that death caused much suffering to those whose lives it touched. Although the aged welcomed death, "How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting for the miraculous birth." They understood that often death came to those who didn't particularly wish to die. "There always must be children who did not specially want it to happen, skating on a pond at the edge of the wood." In Peter Bruegel the Elder's painting the Fall of Icarus, the youthful Icarus falls out of the sky and is swept away in death's cold embrace.
Peter Brueghel the Elder's, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, illustrates this knowledge of humans indifference to their fellow humans suffering poignantly. Although the man plowing his field must have seen Icarus fall into the water, he does nothing because Icaurus' fall and subsequent suffering is unimportant to his life and the task at hand. "The plowman may have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, but for him it was not an important failure." In the painting, Icarus has already fallen from the sky into the bay. You can see his pitiful pale white legs sticking up from the water in the lower right hand corner of the painting. Another witness to Icarus' fall from grace was the magnificent ship that was sailing on the bay. The ship's crewmembers do nothing to rescue Icarus. "The expensive delicate ship that must have seen something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on. Because they had something more pressing to do, they ignored the fact that a boy, a fellow human had fallen out of the sky into the bay's treacherous waters. In today's modern world, humans are often indifferent, if not callous to the others in their time of need. Several months ago there was an accident in the HOV Lanes of 95 Northbound by the Pentagon. An accident had taken place in which a man was thrown out of the truck into the lanes of traffic. When a passerby's stopped and assisted the critically injured man, several of the commuters honked, made derogatory gestures, and continued to make their way past the accident scene. Too often people would rather keep on walking or driving by than stop and help a fellow humans with their problems. The observations of human indifference reflected in Musee des Beaux Arts by W.H. Auden are still relevant today.
Although the Old Masters understood death, they also understood that life goes on after the tragedy of death. "That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course." Humans, even those most affected by their loved ones death would eventually slowly begin to heal and continue on with their respective lives. In the painting, the plowman and the ship continue on with what they are doing. Life does not end or stop happening just because someone dies. People eventually must pick up what is left of their lives, hopes, and dreams and get on with the business of living.
Through it's analysis of Peter Brueghel the Elder's, Landscape with the Fall of Icaurus, the poem helps us to visualize human indifference. Perhaps through reflection on the poem and painting we can understand the ultimate callousness of human indifference and work on reacting to fellow human's suffering with respect and compassion.