We look up the painting to see what William Carlos Williams is talking about if we don’t already know it. Lately, I’ve been thinking back to Icarus, back to this poem in particular because I like it.
Bruegel paints a different scene than maybe we are used to seeing when talking about Classical myths—we see as Williams mentions, a farmer ploughing his fields and the peasantry. The perspective of this image feels dreamlike, inaccurate and unreal. In the corner, we notice the tiny kicking feet and feathers of Icarus.
It’s fitting like Williams’ plums, I think. Nobody notices Icarus crashing into the waves. What’s the broader statement the poem or the painting could be making about life, since we’re always trying to draw art back to make it relevant to ourselves?
Sometimes when the story of Icarus and Daedalus is told, he’s warned both not to fly too high or too close to the sun (the part that everybody knows), but also not to swoop too low. Aim too high or too low and you’re guaranteed to fail. Find middle ground.
But what if you do fail? Nobody is paying much attention to Icarus here, as he sinks, flailing and hopeless. Icarus is melted. When you fall maybe you’re done for—nobody’s going to notice if you mess up, but nobody’s going to be around to help you back up, either.
While the sun was glaring in my eyes earlier today on my way in to teaching, I wondered if maybe the sun felt bad about what had happened.
The answer is: Probably not. Why should he?