The role of artists in Auden's poetry

Essay by emnguyen23High School, 12th gradeB-, November 2014

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Emma Nguyen


What are the roles of artists in W.H. Auden poetry ?

W.H Auden was born in 1907 in the town of York. Later he studied at Oxford University to become a literature teacher and a poet. He spent few years in Berlin but travelled also to Spain then to the USA, always committed politically. "Selected Poems" is published in 1930, after the war, to report people's feelings and reality of the time.

W.H. Auden's poetry raises a wide range of issues and subjects such as love, war, relations or even psychology but as a user of art himself, Auden gives an important role to art and artists in his work.

In several poems, through poetry, his own art, he has chosen to highlight other forms of art to show many different points of view and work he finds interesting.

The poem "Musée des Beaux Arts" can illustrate the link that Auden made between poetry and painting. In the first stanza, Auden points out the talent and the uncommon foresight of the Old Masters that are 16 th -17 th European painters, to describe indifference and selfishness to the suffering of the others, as they are too absorbed by their own life. Old Masters quoted here are artists described as more attentive, learned than others, with a capacity to understand what people ignore "they were never wrong/how well they understood" . Their pictorial form of work depicts this recurrent problem in humanity which is something that Auden seems to admire. Indeed, in the second stanza, the representation of suffering made by Brueghel with his painting "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" seemed so prodigiously done that Auden, instead of giving his own definition of suffering, uses the painting and describes the painted characters, the atmosphere...