Musee des Beaux Arts
W. H. Auden

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 Breughel'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.

About Suffering

In that first apartment, dank 
Baltimore basement, 
I etched Auden’s poem onto
my tablecloth, shaking 

the flimsy table, 
pressing down in 
windowless gloom 
before climbing up into 

gray sunlight to
join the other would-be poets 
in our beige metal classroom 
tucked somewhere 

I can’t recall -- perhaps 
on the edge of that famous university 
known mostly for launching 
serious doctors. 

There, we pursued our 
dreadful martyrdom to art, 
glorified our untidy lives and 
mundane disasters, 

thought we could torture our 
unsuitable affairs and boring mistakes
into important failures. 
We imagined we were cheating

pain into poetry, weaving song
from meaningless suffering. 
. . . Now we are old, and nameless, and
at least one of us is a ghost. 

Breughel’s green water still hangs 
on its museum wall, 
and Auden's words echo there 
like dust, 

multiplied by the internet
to infinity.

Suggested soundtrack: Father John Misty, “Pure Comedy”

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