About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters.
— W.H. Auden, Musée des Beaux Arts
That’s what Auden tells us: never wrong because their paintings show how suffering occurs while others don’t notice, or care. People close their windows while the girl screams in the alley. They drive past the strange man staggering alongside the road. Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus gives Auden his example. In the painting, Icarus has just plummeted into the sea. Only his legs and a tiny splash are still visible. Yet the plowman in the foreground goes on plowing. And the “expensive, delicate ship” whose passengers may have seen Icarus fall had, Auden writes, “somewhere to get to, and sailed calmly on.” And so here’s my question: Where is the father in this painting? Where is Daedalus, who conceived and created the wings and planned their escape from the island prison; who carefully instructed his son on the dangers of flight and then, magically, sprang into the air with him? Why did Brueghel and Auden not see him scan the waters for a sign of his foolish, elated boy; and, not finding Icarus, searching across every island; and finally, realizing what must have happened, pulling up to the spot, seeing the tire marks and the smoldering wreck, running down into the ditch, choking back the tears, frantically trying to pry open the door of the crushed vehicle?