Compare and Contrast Essay | My Last Duchess vs Musée des Beaux Arts

Introduction

            British poetry of the 19-th century is unique as it discusses the themes that are common to the literary period. One of the representatives of the 19-th century poetry is a talented British poet Robert Browning. His poetic works are highly valued by literary critics. Wystan Hugh Auden, an Anglo-American poet and literary critic, is one of the greatest poets of the 20-th century. He was born in England, but later moved to the United States and became an American citizen. Although these poets lived and poetized in different time periods, they have very much in common in terms of themes, styles and poetic forms (Heffernan 78). Both poets are focused on representation of pain, suffering and evil in poetry through impressive images. The two poems that will be discussed in this paper are the poem “My Last Duchess” by Browning and “Musée des Beaux Arts” by Auden. The poems My Last Duchess” by Browning and “Musée des Beaux Arts” by Auden share the theme of universal apathy toward human sufferings, which causes pain and evil thoughts. The world without love is insignificant as it promotes ignorance and

The major goal of this paper is to compare and contrast two poems “My Last Duchess” by Browning and “Musée des Beaux Arts” by Auden, placing emphasis on the issues of form and theme.

Analysis of the poem “My Last Duchess” by Browning

The poem “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning was written in 1842. The poem is represented in the form of a dramatic monologue. Browning uses a monologue to establish the main character of the poem indirectly, without providing any additional descriptions, and drawing conclusions regarding the nature of the speaker the Duke of Ferrara. The speaker is talking to the messenger from the Duchess concerning his sins and his feelings. The Duke of Ferrara killed his wife, but he experiences happiness. The Duke refers to the painting of the deceased Duchess, which is placed on the wall. He says,

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,

Looking as if she were alive. I call

That piece a wonder, now. Fr Pandolf’s hands

Worked busily a day, and there she stands (Browning).

The key message of the poem is to discuss the arrangements for the Duke’s next marriage. Robert Browning represents the fresco of the Duchess in his poem in order to discuss the speaker’s negative attitudes toward women. The Duke is trying to communicate his expectations of his next wife. However, the speaker does not show himself as a cruel and demanding man. The major fault of the Duchess is that she had no powers of discernment. The Duke gives a description of his Duchess’s smile. He says,

A heart – how shall I say? – too soon made glad,

Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er

She looked on, and her looks went everywhere (Browning).

The poet is concerned about the negative effects of power in human society. The Duke acts as a tyrant in his marriage relationship who demonstrates his tyrannical power in various situations.

Analysis of the poem “Musée des Beaux Arts” by Auden

The poem “Musée des Beaux Arts” by Auden was written in 1938. Auden’s poem is a free verse poem, which is divided into two parts. The first part of the poem is focused on the description of the author’s “suffering” and “dreadful martyrdom”. The kid is dying in the water, but his father and other people on the ship do not care about it. They simply ignore this fact because they lost the meaning of love. He writes,

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… (Auden)

 

The second part of the poem “Musée des Beaux Arts” by Auden refers to the description of Pieter Bruegel’s painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (ca. 1560s). The poet helps the reader to better understand the indifference that exists in this world regarding human suffering. He writes,

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… (Auden)

The disaster is concluded in the fall of Icarus, which is caused by his flight to the sun that led to the melting of his waxen wings. The poet shows that people follow their daily routine, ignoring the tragedy of the boy, drowning in the ocean.  The poet says,

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 (Auden).

 

The poet is well-known for his “lyric compression,” which represents 21 lines of “extraordinary complexity with a feeling of ease and directness that make it accessible even on a first reading” (Mao 42). In his poem, Auden is based on intimate description of highly valued objects. Besides, the form of the poem is unique. The poet uses rhyme in one of the lines, but, in general, the rhyme scheme is “highly asymmetrical” (Mao 42).

The major differences between two poems

There are certain differences between the poems “My Last Duchess” by Browning and “Musée des Beaux Arts” by Auden. These differences are concluded in different forms of poetic works, different stylistic devices used to make the poetic language vivid, as well as different historic periods.

The most important difference between two poems is that Browning uses traditional verse form with rhyme and rhythm, while Auden represents a free verse form, represented in a lineal form. This fact means that Auden’s free verse can be interpreted as prose, although it is presented in lines to be similar to poetry.

            The poets use different approaches in providing evidence that the world without love is insignificant. Browing is focused on the representation of love between a man and a woman, while Auden is focused on the representation of the effects of parental love.

Besides, the poets use different stylistic devices to make their poetry bright. In the poems “My Last Duchess”, Browning uses metaphors (“the depth and passion of its earnest glance”), comparison (“looking as if she were alive”), epithets (“earnest glance”, “ample warrant”, “officious fool”) to make his language vivid and understandable. In the poem “Musée des Beaux Arts” by Auden, there are many stylistic devices as well, but these devices are different. The poet frequently uses anastrophe, the so-called transposition of the normal word order in the sentence. This device is found in many Latin works.  The major goal of the poet is to place emphasis on hyperbaton. He criticizes modern society in terms of human ignorance that prevails in life. Nevertheless, Auden uses many epithets (“important failure”, “miraculous birth”, etc.) and metaphors (“passionately waiting”, “dreadful martyrdom”).

One more difference between these two poems is that the poets belong to different historic periods. The poem “My Last Duchess” by Browning was set in the late Italian Renaissance, while the poem “Musée des Beaux Arts” by Auden was set in the 20-th century and reflects personal relationships of the modern period. Browning pays due attention to unequal relations between men and women of the 19-th century, while Auden points to the faults in parental relationships.

The major similarities between two poems

There are some similarities between the poems “My Last Duchess” by Browning and “Musée des Beaux Arts” by Auden. These similarities are concluded in the common theme discussed by the poets – the theme of universal apathy toward human suffering, which causes pain and evil thoughts. In the poem “Musée des Beaux Arts”, Auden demonstrates the possible consequences of apathetical behavior through the use of imagery. Both poems are written in a simple style that reflects the so-called “innocence” of the speakers’ thoughts (MacMahon 220). Both poems are easy accessible by the reader. The poets place emphasis on the negative aspects of the indifference of human beings. In the poem “Musée des Beaux Arts”, Auden explores the nature of individual suffering, which is ignored by everyone in the world. In many cases, people pay no attention to the events described by poets and painters in their works. Auden evaluates how Bruegel depicts the tragedy of Icarus fallen from the sky, and the reaction of people to this event. Nobody is concerned about the fate of Icarus.

Much the same can be said about the poem “My Last Duchess” by Browning. In this poem, the speaker demonstrates his indifference to the Duchess’s fate. Both poems prove the fact that any human being should demonstrate some degree of empathy and assistance in a complicated situation. The poems “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning and “Musee des Beaux Arts” by W.H. Auden share the same message: human beings live in a cruel world, in which they lack care, support and mutual understanding. These two poems reflect the negative aspects of the loss of meaning of love.

Besides, both poets use visual art to reflect their key ideas concerning the existing indifference in this world and its negative effects on humanity in general and each individual in particular. Both Robert Browning and W.H. Auden use paintings to express their thoughts. Robert Browning represents the image of a Duchess in the paining, while W.H. Auden uses the painting Pieter Bruegel’s painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus to demonstrate human indifference to the problems of other people, especially parental indifference. In the first poem, the Duke draws a curtain in order to demonstrate the painting of the deceased Duchess to his auditor, while in the second poem, the poet himself refers to the famous painting to connect his words with visual imagery.

Conclusion

Thus, it is necessary to conclude that the poems “My Last Duchess” by Browning and “Musée des Beaux Arts” by Auden have very much in common, but at the same time, there are certain differences between them. Both poets are focused on representation of painted image to express their key message and discuss the major theme. Both poems help the reader to evaluate the significance of love in human lives. There are some differences in the form, stylistic devices and time periods. The world without love is poor and insignificant. People should take care of one another. People should demonstrate the best traits of their characters in order to develop the feeling of mutual understanding, love and respect.

 

 

Works Cited

Auden, Wystan Hugh. “Musée des Beaux Arts” in Selected Poems. Vintage International, 2007. Print.

Browning, Robert. “My Last Duchess” in My Last Duchess and Other Poems. Courier Dover Publications, 2012. Print.

Heffernan, James A. “Entering the museum of words: Browning’s “My Last Duchess” and twentieth century ekphrasis” in Icons – Texts – Iconotexts: Essays on Ekphrasis and Intermediality, ed. by Peter Wagner. Walter de Gruyter, 1996.

Mao, Douglas. “Musée des Beaux Arts” in Encyclopedia of American Poetry: The Twentieth Century, ed. by Eric L. Haralson. Routledge, 2014. Print.

MacMahon, Barbara. “Indirectness, rhetoric and interpretative use: communicative strategies in Browning’s My Last Duchess,” Language and Literature, 5.3 (1996):  209-223

The terms offer and acceptance. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from

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freeessays.club (2016) The terms offer and acceptance [Online].
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"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

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"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: February 4, 2023]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: February 4, 2023]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

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