After reading this poem several times, I think this poem is very sad because it is about human suffering. And the three painting all talk about the indifferences toward the suffering.
Obviously, lines 5-8 refer to the painting of the Census at Bethlehem. Bethlehem is a place where Jesus was born and in the painting no one notices the presence of Joseph leading the Virgin on a mule. But it is very strange that no one notices Joseph and Virgin in Bethlehem,a religion place.Here I think Virgin, Joseph and Bethlehem are all a symbol of religion. People are all gathered to pay taxes and children continued to skate on a pond at the edge of the wood. It seems that people were not care about religion even Joseph and Virgin. Why?It is because in such period it is very hard to support livingand the politics is not so democratic. So people have great pressure of support life and religion is not so important before people support their living enough.Why did children not speciallywant it to happen and still skating on a pond? I think maybe they did not know much about religion and they also did not know much about what kind of pressure did their parents have. Children is the innocents. So when the adults paid their taxes, children still skated. I think this stanza is about the indifference of religion.
Lines 9-13 refer to the painting of The Massacre of the Innocents. The name of this painting is very ironic because massacre and innocent are very contrastive. In this painting, there was a massacre of children and the adults protested. Ironically, the dogs still go on their life and the torturer's horse scratches its innocent behind on a tree. Animals still did its own thing. Maybe these are two kinds of world. Animals did not know what happen. In the other hand, I think did the writer use animals to refer to the torturers? They are not human because they can killed children easily without seeing the parents of children. The torturee's indifferent attitude toward the massacre because they were numb.
The last stanza refer to the painting of Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. Icarus is a Greek mythology but I do not know what it means and what the story is. I think it must have a connotation like some kind of suffering. But the writer did not emphasis on the suffering and the writer emphasis on the indifference of the plowman the sun and the ship instead. I think it is because in that period people did not have much freedom of speaking and different ideas. So maybe people have different ideas or people have complainment about the goverment but they are afraid that they would get hurt if they said or acted in public. The goverment is very autocratic so people just keep silent in order to protect themselves. People still go on their life and the nature(the white legs disappearing into the green water;I think that is winter become spring) still go on regardless of what suffering it is.
The writer protest the tragedy of human by writing the indifferences of the surrounding, the people , nature, religion and even animals.