Last week's offering made me think about other poems that respond to paintings. I like this one, "Musée des Beaux Arts," by W.H. Auden about Pieter Breughel's “Landscape with the Fall of Icharus.” It's a neat comment on the way those old Dutch paintings exquisitely rendered the ordinary, but it's also a poignant observation of the world's propensity to sail calmly away from the boy falling out of the sky. The museum of the title is the Musée Royaux des Beaux Arts de Belgique, which is well worth a visit if you're ever strolling up the Rue de Musée in Brussels.
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just
walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and 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.