I was reading Indigo Roth’s latest post just now and, I’m not sure why, it triggered a thought of this poem, which I first read when I was about fourteen and it struck some sort of chord with me. I probably had not heard of Breughel before then, I was pretty ignorant about painting. But, being a child who needed words to trigger the imagination, I loved the thought of that picture.
I visited Brussels in my teens, but I didn’t then have an opportunity to go to the art gallery. However, years later, Weeza worked in a hotel there for a year. Ronan and I went to visit her there in early December – 17 years ago, nearly 18, he was only 13. I’d thought he was older than that.
Anyway, my mother advised taking warm clothes “They don’t call them the Low Countries for nothing,” she said gnomically. Whatever she meant, she was right. It was absolutely bloody freezing, far colder than at home, ever. We went on Eurostar, the first time we’d been through the Tunnel – it was splendid, and great to disembark right in the centre of the city, be met by Weeza and hop straight on the Metro to get to our hotel.
I was very keen to go to the Musée des Beaux Arts, almost entirely because I wanted to see the Fall of Icarus painting. I haven’t been back to Brussels for many years (I visited Weeza again, but haven’t returned since) but I was surprised that the buildings were so dirty and so were the paintings in the musée. Now, to be honest, I sometimes feel that paintings in this country are over-cleaned, but these ones looked as if they’d never been cleaned since they were painted, however many hundred years ago that had been. And the layout of the museum was very poorly labelled. We spent the first hour looking disconsolately at old religious paintings and didn’t enjoy ourselves very much. I couldn’t find any guidance – though we did find our way to the Surrealists, eventually, and cheered up considerably. Ronan particularly liked Magritte and Dali, so was pleased to see those. I kept slogging on, though, determined to see the Fall of Icarus.
We found it in the end and I was enchanted. Weeza and Ro clearly thought “is that it?” They declared, very politely, that they’d never go to an art gallery with me again.
I still like the poem, too.
|Musée des Beaux ArtsW. H. Auden
About suffering they were never wrong,
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away