An in-depth line-by-line analysis of the structure, theme, irony, tone, biblical and painting allusions, and rhyme pattern of one of Auden’s most incisive short poems.
This brilliant study of human suffering (and indifference to it) should challenge your students who are constantly bombarded with photos and accounts of ISIS beheadings and government-sanctioned waterboardings. Auden understood the “human position” (line 3) regarding inflicted suffering: It’s none of my business as long as I and mine are not the ones being wracked (or racked).
This four-page handout, which has blanks which your students can fill in, is suitable as an in-class activity or for homework. An Answer Key is provided on a separate page.
Additionally, not as part of the student handout, I have included notes on the translation of the title of the poem, on how it is pronounced (for those not familiar with French), on more complete descriptions of the three Brueghel paintings alluded to in the poem, and on the major themes and stylistic features of Auden’s poetry in general. You may wish to incorporate these points into your class’s discussion of “Musée Des Beaux Arts.”
Prepared by Professor William Tarvin, Ph.D., who has published many articles on literature in scholarly journals.