Musée Des Beaux Arts
by W. H. Auden
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;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind a tree.
In Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
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.
For a better view of this painting and to get a better chance of spotting the next to invisible splashing of Icarus's legs into the green ocean, thus catching the depressing insight of an apparent human insignificance, click here .
Although I quite agree with Auden on the single human being's relative insignificance, I am also deeply convinced that humanity has an immensely important role to play in the development of the universe. As the most intelligent life form known to us, we carry a wonderful responsability of continual development, of keeping creation alive. Of course, as is becoming more and more clear with pollution, global warming, never ending wars and a violently unfair balance in money and food planetwise, this responsability at the same time holds the danger of corruption and human weakness or even evil (strong word). But great progress, blinding insight and ever deeper love for the rest of existing forms tend to get its opposite pole of stagnation/reactionism, new ways of suppressing and witholding of information and boon that should be to the benefit of all.
As I see it, this dualistic tendency, this inevitable polarity, is just part of a universal law. With expansion comes the possibility of even greater contraction and walking backwards; with blinding light even deeper darkness.
However, this does not make me pessimistic. I have too much faith in human goodness, and in another universal law: Truth will out.
This, as I see it, is deeply true.