|Landscape with the Fall of Icarus - Pieter Bruegel
My isolation because of Covid and shared with the loss of my Rosemary on December 9 2020 has led me to lots of reflection. A lot of it is melancholic and does nothing to raise my spirits.
And then there is poetry. Years before Rosemary became sick, I was reading Emily Dickinson, Jorge Luís Borges, Alfonsina Storni, Julio Cortázar, W.H. Auden, Ogden Nash , Homero Arijdis and lots by the doctor William Carlos Williams.
Poetry lifts my spirits. My mother would have quoted from the Roman Catholic Latin Mass, “Sursum Corda” which translates to lift your heart (s).
Reading poetry is a distraction that never is allied to any sense of guilt. I close the poetry books when my two cats indicate to me that it is time to turn off the light.
I might argue with them in Spanish and tell them that one of the most famous works of Argentine literature, El Martín Fierro is a long prose poem and one could add that so is Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s El ingenioso hidalgo Don Don Quijote de la Mancha. I finally give up and turn off the lights.
In recent weeks I read that not only had William Carlos Williams written a poem (and book) related to Pieter Bruehgel the Elder’s painting (somewhat contested as to its real origin) Landscape with the Fall of Icarus but two other poets, W.H. Auden and Michael Hamburger
What is amazing to me is that the painting seems to be a cheerful early spring landscape and only its title and a pair of legs on the bottom right have anything to do with Icarus. It is a pleasant work of art about a tragic event.
William Carlos Williams
According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring
a farmer was ploughing
the whole pageantry
of the year was
the edge of the sea
sweating in the sun
the wings' wax
off the coast
a splash quite unnoticed
Musee des Beaux Arts
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.
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.
Lines on Brueghel’s “Icarus”
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.