Archive for the ekphrasis Category

Auden today

Posted in Auden, Brueghel, ekphrasis, poetry on October 31, 2007 by jv

After a long dull day and many words with as many people, meanwhile trying my best to be pleasant like they brung us up to do, I will let W.H. Auden speak for me. He composed “The Musée des Beaux Arts” in 1938, if I remember right, on a break from the Spanish Civil War—grunting for the revolutionary side of course, an event that so disillusioned him it’s a wonder he survived at all. First the painting by Brueghel the Elder, dated 1555. Yes, Pieter Brueghel de Oude, the Elder, though the poor guy died at 42 years old. You must click on it to see the detail.


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.