W H Auden had in later life the most wonderfully craggy face in English literature. But this poem comes from many years earlier and is rather less heart-warming than the others we’ve had. But then, because we can’t always be lifted quickly out of the dark, it helps to be given words to describe the dark.

Auden here reflects on seeing a wonderful painting of the Fall of Icarus by Pieter Breugel the Elder during his 1938 visit to Brussels’ famous fine art museum with Christopher Isherwood. It actually profoundly helps to have that in front of you during the reading. Because poem and picture interact with each other, such that we see and hear new things.

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, c.1555 (oil on canvas) by Bruegel, Pieter the Elder (c.1525-69); Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique (XIR3675)

It is so real and realistic. And in 1938, seemed prescient of the unnoticed suffering of literally millions. Some carried on oblivious. Or at least tried to.

Here is the text of the poem

Auden on wiki

Which is why this verse offers such crucial balm (here in Eugene Peterson’s MESSAGE translation)

You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn

through the sleepless nights,

Each tear entered in your ledger,

each ache written in your book. (Ps 56:8)

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