W. H. Auden, “Et in Arcadia Ego”

ET IN ARCADIA EGO (Eu também estou em Arcádia – a morte como fato inexorável).

circle, uncoiled

Barbieri Barbieri


This poem explores the problem of the “domesticated” being of Mother Nature (“Happily married/ Housewife, helpmate to man), beneath whose surface rages the original wild that man thinks he has tamed (screeching/ Virago, the Amazon). It seems important to discuss the poem in such gendered terms, since Nature has been subsumed as “helpmate to Man,” while “the autobahn/ Thwarts the landscape/ In godless Roman arrogance.” Nevertheless, the instrument will inevitably be turned on the master: “The farmer’s children/ Tip-toe past the shed/ Where the gelding-knife is kept.”

The title refers to the 17th-century paintings of idyllic Arcadian life by Nicolas Poussin or Giovanni Barbieri (1618). The paintings depict young shepherds coming across the tombstone of one whose death descries the fallacy of Arcadian happiness: that Time kills all. This phrase also appears in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.

Poussin Poussin

Who, now, seeing Her so
Happily married,
Housewife, helpmate to…

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