Wednesday’s Poem 4/15/09

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

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

From Collected Poems: 1939-1962, Volume II by William Carlos Williams, published by New Directions Publishing Corp. © 1962 by William Carlos Williams.

I’m not really a big fan of Williams, or of the Imagist Poet idea – conveying concrete, physical detail, with everything else way, way below the surface or (what happens often, in my opinion) simply not there. Another Williams poem, “This Is Just to Say,” really gets under my skin.

But I’ve always liked this poem. Maybe because I really like Brueghel, and love the idea behind the poem this painting alludes to – this mythic event happening, and yet all this mundane stuff goes on as usual. I guess, in this case, Williams’ terse, concrete language works well for this idea. But I think this is because of the whole juxtaposition between the extraordinary and the everyday. In “This Is Just to Say,” he’s conveying the everyday with everyday images, and while some try to argue for the subtext there, I just ain’t buying it.


One Response to Wednesday’s Poem 4/15/09

  1. Angele says:

    I’m a bigger fan of Williams than you are, particularly when he moves beyond the coy spareness of Imagism. (I think that Williams’s “To Elsie” is one of the great American poems.)

    “Landscape With the Fall of Icarus,” however, seems like jottings compared to my favorite poem on this subject, W.H. Auden’s “Musee des Beaux Arts” (see below), although I do like the terse (dare I say farmer-like) lines in the middle of the poem, which express the grandeur and grand indifference of Bruegel’s landscape with dying man:

    “the whole pageantry

    of the year was
    awake tingling

    the edge of the sea
    with itself”

    Now on to Auden:

    Musee des Beaux Arts

    W.H. Auden

    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.

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