Open Book: What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?Anita Lahey: W.H. Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts.” I love this poem more every time I read it, and something new comes to into focus each time. I picked it up before answering this question, and realized for the first time that the first line, “About suffering they were never wrong,” actually implies that the “Old Masters” did indeed get things wrong, perhaps many things, with which Auden himself would take issue. Yet he feels compelled to defend them regarding this one accomplishment, which is so crucial it cannot be denied and perhaps even erases some of those wrongs: they are not, to borrow Auden’s own phrasing from deeper in the poem “important failures.” I’m reading a great deal into that one line, but Auden’s wording invites it, here and throughout the poem, which is why the reading of it is always such a rich experience.
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