W. H. Auden: Poems

Recycling Art; the Reuse of Artistic Thought and Theme in Auden, Joyce, and Eliot College

There is a long standing tradition within literature of art within the text holding symbolic meaning. Through either referring or depicting art the author is able to convey, and often consolidate, the ideas of the artist whom they are referring to. This may be to reinforce a thematic point (such as in W. H. Auden’s ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’), to fashion parallels between texts and thus create new narrative structures (like in James Joyce’s Ulysses), or to consolidate the ideas of multiple artists of multiple genres into a single idiosyncratic text (such as in T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’). But what is most interesting through the metafictional use of art within literature is the point that it makes about the finiteness of art, its limitations to produce new and original thought. When art is referenced in literature, a process of recycling thought is assured, and an awareness that there is no such thing as original artistic thought is reconfirmed.

‘Musée des Beaux Arts’ is a poem about paintings, referencing specific works of art, a common theme running through both the poem and the paintings: the constancy of human suffering. Concerning this theme Auden writes:

“About suffering they were never wrong,

The Old Masters: how well...

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