Lessons learned from Icarus (II)

In an earlier post, I asked about what we can learn from the story of Icarus. Or is the real lesson: That life goes on, no matter what happens?

Here is the famous painting of the event known as ‘Landscape with the Fall of Icarus’ by Pieter Brueghel.


Notice how the farmer goes on ploughing, and how the shepherd continues to watch over his sheep. How the fisherman peers into the depths. How the ship sails on. And where is Icarus? Off in the corner, only his flailing legs to be seen.

Read also this ecphrastic poem by William Carlos Williams that he wrote upon seeing this painting:

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling

the edge of the sea
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings’ wax

off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

I like the way that the poem talks more about the mundane routines of life compared to the ‘unsignificant splash’ caused by Icarus when he fell from the sky. And of course the form of the poem is cute: like Icarus himself falling down, down, down.


~ by irwin on January 8, 2009.

One Response to “Lessons learned from Icarus (II)”

  1. Received a MSN offline message from a friend who told me that there’s another poem on Icarus, and it’s by W H Auden, one of my best-loved poets. Auden also wrote the poem after viewing Brueghel’s painting. So here it is!

    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 Brueghel’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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: