“About suffering they were never wrong”

Musée Des Beaux Arts

 

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 horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything
turns away
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.

— by W. H. Auden

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, Pieter Bruegel

2 thoughts on ““About suffering they were never wrong”

  1. Thank you for posting this juxtaposition of poem and painting. It is incredibly moving to get the message from two media simultaneously. I had to think of the recent case in China of a toddler hit by a car and people walking past.

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