Key to Auden's perspective on suffering is that suffering is a constant component of human existence, made clear in Surgical Ward, where he observes how those who experience acute pain magnify the truth of our own suffering. Patients in dire situations show that people "are and suffer; that is all they do"; the line implies not only that to live and to suffer are indivisible, but also that each state of being relies upon the other - just as, without evil, it is often argued that there would be no good, suffering makes us appreciate that we are alive. A similar thought is intrinsic to Musée des Beaux Arts: what makes the Old Masters' pieces so convincing, he insists, is their depiction of the reality that suffering is a constant, which often "takes place / While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along". The frequentative sense of the participles in this deliberately extended line, combined with the dismissive simplicity implied by "just", show that suffering is an ongoing experience ("suffering" itself being a noun formed from a verbal participle) which, though commonly felt, is not always perceptible to others, and it is a truth that comes with living and other everyday processes.
Auden also seems to interlink suffering with the influence of fate, suggesting that suffering, regardless of its magnitude, is inevitable. According to the Old Masters (with whom the poet apparently agrees, "About suffering they were never wrong"), "even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course", a statement not apathetic but rather detached in its gnomic tone. As a result, the degree of pain seems mismatched to its grandeur - pain on the scale of "martyrdom" may be met "Anyhow in a corner", as it must happen; where it happens is far less significant. Here, the double-meaning of the "corner" as that of a painting or an actual landscape reflects that what may be perceived as devastating suffering is in fact a daily occurrence, and this same spot may be where, obliviously, "dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse / Scratches its innocent behind on a tree". Use of informal, semi-comic language such as "doggy" and "innocent behind" does not detract from the suffering, but rather magnifies our awareness of the unconcerned everyday reality of others who cannot comprehend the pain, as well as the truth that a brief moment of intense pain is not more significant than its context.
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