“Musee des Beaux Arts” by W.H. Auden : Questions and Summary
Category : POETRY LESSONS
“Musee des Beaux Arts” by W.H. Auden
martyrdom – suffering of death for one’s beliefs
forsaken – renounced
Note: To fully appreciate the poem, students should be shown a reproduction of “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,” by artist Pieter Brueghel. The poem is essential to interpreting the poem’s second stanza.
1. What is the poem suggesting about the nature of cruelty?
The poem suggests that cruelty is a natural part of all our lives, and that suffering affects everyone.
2. Who in the poem cares about human suffering?
The speaker of the poem infers that the ones who care about human suffering are the children. The suggestion is that children are too young to have experienced suffering themselves, and so the witness of it affects them more.
3. What is the theme of the poem? Choose one image from the poem and explain how it reinforces this message.
The theme of the poem is about the universality of human suffering. The poem’s images suggest how suffering is constantly taking place, though not to everyone at the same time.
Students’ responses to the second part of the question will vary, but should reinforce the above mentioned theme.
4. Why do you think the poet chose Peter Bruegel’s “Icarus” to illustrate his theme of the world’s indifference to human suffering ?
Answers may vary. Example: The village folk in the poem would have been aware of Icarus’ failure, but they continue to move on with their work. The images suggest that suffering does not move people to act any differently than they normally do because it is experienced by all.
5. Some critics have argued that this poem hints at Auden’s decision to turn back toChristianity. What signs do you find in this poem that signal this may be true?
In line seven, Auden mentions the “miraculous birth,” probably a reference to Christ’s birth. The theme of tragedy is also reminiscent of Christ and his tragic end.