An Ode To The Wheel Of Fortune

The Wheel Of Fortune

I think the following W. H. Auden poem beautifully encapsulates the yin and yang of the Wheel of Fortune card. I reproduce it here for your contemplation…

Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,

The Old Masters; how well, they understood

Its human position; how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting

For the miraculous birth, there always must be

Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating

On a pond at the edge of the wood:

They never forgot

That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course

Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot

Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse

Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.


In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away

Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may

Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,

But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone

As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green

Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen

Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,

Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.


Note: Auden wrote this poem after a visit to the Musee des Beaux Arts in Brussels where he saw a painting by Breughel called ‘Landscape with the Fall of Icarus’. In Greek mythology Icarus is the man who flew on wings of feathers and wax too close to the sun whereupon the wax melted and Icarus fell into the sea where he drowned. In the painting several men and a ship go about their business ignoring Icarus’s death in the background. Just as we can go about our daily activities not realising the pain our neighbours/workmates/loved ones may be in (or vice versa).

Can you see the connection with the Wheel of Fortune card? Please comment below.

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