In “Musee des Beaux Arts,” W.H. Auden reveals the role of suffering for man. Suffering is a private affair that goes unnoticed by others. Auden first explores the role of suffering in general and then exposes this role by analyzing the paintings of “old Masters” (Auden 2). While dealing with suffering in general, the poem notes that “it takes place / While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along” (3-4). The world does not stop for the suffering of a single man. The neighbor down the street might be engaged in an epic battle with cancer for his life, but his neighbor two houses down is mowing the lawn. Additionally, the poem tackles the end of suffering, death, by implying that it ends “in a corner, some untidy spot / Where the dogs go on with their doggy life”. For the majority of man, death is a process that few notice.
The poem moves from the general to the specific by analyzing suffering in Breughel’s famous painting, The Fall of Icarus. In the painting, an observer would not notice the death of Icarus as he falls from the sky because it is a very small image in the background. In the foreground, the main image is of a man plowing. The whole of the theme of the poem is contained in the following, “the ploughman may / Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, / But for him it was not an important failure”. Each man must face suffering and death, but this process is important for that man alone. All others are too busy with life to stop and notice.