Landscape with the fall of Icarus

The Triumph of Death post has been popular, as has Mad Meg, so I thought I’d hitch my my wagon to one more awesome Brueghel painting, Landscape with the fall of Icarus.

The myth of Icarus & Daedalus is fairly well known, and like many Greek myths deals with hubris, but of course it’s also a charming Father’s  Day tale.  Daedalus, a Greek inventor, builds wings of feathers and wax and has his son Icarus test them out, warning the lad not too fly too close to the sun, Apollo’s chariot, with the inevitable result.Frederick Leighton’s “Icarus & Daedalus,” and the creepiest illustration of the myth I could find.

I must have first heard of the myth in D’Aulaires’ Greek myths, which I checked out of the library often in grade school, although by far I like their Norse books more (Norse gods and giants and Trolls).

Anyway, when Iron Maiden released their song “Flight of Icarus” (1983) I was already way into Black Sabbath (to the exclusion of almost everything else) but I did catch the video on MTV or USA’s Night flight, and really liked it.  The Iron Maiden song is fairly sparse lyrically but basically reads the myth as a tale of how parents fail their children, or perhaps more broadly how everyone and everything fail everyone.  Good times.  It’s an really boring video but a great song.

Some time after that I’d name several RPG characters after Icarus, more because it seemed like a very metal name than anything else.

So without further ado,

click to embiggen

You’ll notice Icarus is not very prominent in this painting at all.  A small cloud of feathers, a splash, and one leg kicking out of the sea.

W.H. Auden wrote a fairly awesome poem about this painting:

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.

As did William Carlos Williams:

Landscape with the fall of Icarus

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling
near

the edge of the sea
concerned
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings’ wax

unsignificantly
off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

Well, that’s about all the exegesis Brueghel’s painting probably needs.

Landscape With The Fall of Icarus
by William Carlos Williams
According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling
near

the edge of the sea
concerned
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings' wax

unsignificantly
off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning
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Published in: on June 20, 2010 at 3:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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