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Musée des Beaux Arts Summary & Analysis
by W. H. Auden

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English-American poet W. H. Auden wrote “Musée des Beaux Arts” in December 1938, following a visit to the Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, or the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. The poem’s speaker walks through a gallery, contemplating various paintings and admiring their ability to convey the “human position” towards suffering—that is, indifference. The poem is an example of ekphrasis, in which the speaker coolly describes the paintings, calling attention to figures carrying on with their lives in the face of extreme violence. Shortly before his 1938 trip to Brussels, Auden spent six months in China during the Second Sino-Japanese War and several weeks at the frontline of the Spanish Civil War. As such, this poem can also be seen as a reaction to the bloodshed that the young poet witnessed during his travels, which he wrote about extensively.

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