What is the meaning behind Auden’s classic poem?
W. H. Auden wrote ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’ in December 1938, while he was staying in Brussels with his friend Christopher Isherwood. The museum and art gallery mentioned in the poem’s title, ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’, is the Brussels art gallery, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, which Auden visited. ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’ alludes to a number of paintings by old Dutch painters – the ‘Old Masters’ – which hang in the Belgian gallery. You can read ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’ here before proceeding to our analysis below.
The easiest way to approach Auden’s poem is to break it up into two stanzas, the first of which establishes the theme of the poem (that old painters understood the nature of human suffering) and the second of which provides a specific example, which Auden describes and analyses in more detail. Read the rest of this entry
A commentary on Shakespeare’s 129th sonnet
When we reach no. 129 in Shakespeare’s Sonnets (‘The expense of spirit in a waste of shame’), we come across a rarity: two classic sonnets one after the other (we’ll come to Sonnet 130 next week). This first one is famous for its analysis of the psyche (particularly the male psyche) after sexual gratification has been achieved. What explains the feeling of sadness, and even self-loathing, which often ensues? Before we take Sonnet 129 in hand and proceed to analyse it, here’s a reminder of the poem.
The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action: and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight;
Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad.
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind a dream. Read the rest of this entry
A commentary on one of Hopkins’s ‘Terrible Sonnets’
The mid-1880s was not a good time for Gerard Manley Hopkins. Lonely in Ireland, the poet fell into a black pit of depression, out of which came the ‘Terrible Sonnets’ which represent, after his flurry of creativity in 1876-77, the most productive time of his poetic career. ‘Carrion Comfort’ is perhaps the most famous of these sonnets. Before we proceed to a commentary on the poem, here’s a reminder of it.
Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee? Read the rest of this entry