Happy Birthday, Old Master

Today is W. H. Auden’s 101st birthday.


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.



Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus


4 comments so far

  1. Levi on

    I’ve always loved that painting. And Auden’s looking pretty good for 201!

  2. jeffreimer on

    Shoot! 101! It is now fixed. (but he’s still dead)

  3. Dina Volaric on

    Hi there,

    Love the WH Auden photo you have here & wondering about its source as I’d like to use it in a TV program.

    Do you know who owns the copyright to it? Otherwise, it would be a great help if you could let me know how you sourced it?


  4. jeffreimer on

    Hi Dina,

    I’m afraid I’m not much help. As far as I can remember, it was simply one of the top hits in a Google image search. I didn’t catalog the source. Sorry!


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