#AtoZChallenge Letter I

The theme of my challenge is poetry and books inspired by art and/or art inspired by literature.

I  is for Icarus

In Greek Mythology, Icarus and his father Daedalus were imprisoned in a tower on the island of Crete by King Minos.  Daedalus created wings out of feathers, held together by bees wax.  The two men were able to fly up into the sky but Icarus ignored his father’s warnings not to fly too close to the sun.  The beeswax melted and Icarus plummeted to his death in the Mediterranean.


Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, c.1555 (oil on canvas) by Bruegel, Pieter the Elder (c.1525-69); 73.5×112 cm; Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium; (add.info.: Icarus seen with his legs thrashing in the sea;); Giraudon; Flemish, out of copyright

In the following poem by W H Auden, entitled Musée des Beaux Arts, he reflects on the way in which the master Painters depicted events such as the drowning of Icarus.

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.

Shortly afterwards, William Carlos Williams wrote a poem describing the story of the everyday events shown in the painting.

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
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings’ wax

off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

Please read the poem by Michael Hamburger in the comment below from MarinaSofia.

Which poem do you prefer?

Link to a list of other A to Z Challengers






5 thoughts on “#AtoZChallenge Letter I

  1. Love that painting and the two poems. In fact, the whole myth of Icarus is fascinating and has been used in some other cultures too (or existed independently, it’s hard to tell).
    There is also a poem by Michael Hamburger based on this same painting – clearly a very inspiring one.

    The ploughman ploughs, the fisherman dreams of fish;
    Aloft, the sailor, through a world of ropes
    Guides tangled meditations, feverish
    With memories of girls forsaken, hopes
    Of brief reunions, new discoveries,
    Past rum consumed, rum promised, rum potential.
    Sheep crop the grass, lift up their heads and gaze
    Into a sheepish present: the essential,
    Illimitable juiciness of things,
    Greens, yellows, browns are what they see.
    Churlish and slow, the shepherd, hearing wings —
    Perhaps an eagle’s–gapes uncertainly;

    Too late. The worst has happened: lost to man,
    The angel, Icarus, for ever failed,
    Fallen with melted wings when, near the sun
    He scorned the ordering planet, which prevailed
    And, jeering, now slinks off, to rise once more.
    But he–his damaged purpose drags him down —
    Too far from his half-brothers on the shore,
    Hardly conceivable, is left to drown.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a fascinating myth. I love the beautiful simplicity of the poem by William Carlos Williams, and the images conjured up by those few words.


  3. Very enjoyable to read about Icarus this evening. I know the myth well but am unfamiliar with the poems. I particularly liked the imagery in the WC Williams poem too.

    Liked by 1 person

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