Auden Was Right: Orlando 2016

It feels strange today to read people’s Facebook posts about pizza and soccer, when I am reeling from the second largest massacre in US history (Wounded Knee was the first, folks). But then I was reminded of W.H. Auden’s poem about Breughel’s Icarus, both of which I reproduce here. Be kind to each other, children, and activate for control of automatic weapons.


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.