Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

This Williams poem struck me because I actually remembered seeing the Brueghel painting at some point previously (you can find it here).  The poem first seems to echo the scene in the painting; it uses three-line vignettes to describe the various tidy ways in which life is going on, and there’s a calm sense of orderly progression congruent with the landscape but not with the ‘dramatic’ occurrence around which both poem and painting are supposedly centered.  This ironic contrast seems to question our daily perceptions; are we missing out on things of myth-sized epic importance because our attention is limited to daily concerns and the mundane side of reality? 

However, Williams also seems to go a step beyond this, specifically calling attention to the fact that the poem is a commentary on a painting by saying “According to Brueghel,” and naming the poem “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.”  This seems to shift the question to the meaning of myth itself; within the context of the painting, Icarus’ death really is just a “splash quite unnoticed,” of no more importance than anything else.  What’s more, the myth is ultimately no more real than the painting; both are fictions, and if greater attention is paid to the “pageantry” of the field or the “awake tingling” that anticipates spring, who’s to say these things are not actually the more important?

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