The Moderns on Suffering

Intro to Poetry, Apr. 10

W. H. Auden, "Musee des Beaux Arts"

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;

Pieter Beuegel the Elder, "The Numbering at Bethlehem"

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:

Breugel's "The Massacre of the Innocents"

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.

Breugel, "Landscape With the Fall of Icarus"

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.

e. e. cummings, "pity this busy monster, manunkind"

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Dorothy Parker, "The Passionate Freudian to His Love"

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