The perception that one person’s sorrow and tragedy goes unseen to the world is the central idea in the poetry of William Carlos Williams. His poem “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” is written as an interpretation of Pieter Brueghel’s painting. The painting is based on the Greek mythological tale of Icarus and his father, Daedalus. Williams paints the words in the poem not only to describe Brueghel’s painting, but to make the readers feel as if they are apart of the tragedy.
The structure of the poem is almost like a waterslide, there are lots of twists and turns, but the flow of water keeps you sliding all the way into the drowning of Icarus. Irony is used to make up the central perception of the poem. Williams’s “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” reveals a new aspect of life through multiple literary devices. Pieter Brueghel’s painting is an image based off the Greek mythological tale of The Fall of Icarus. Icarus’s father, Daedalus, made wings out of wax and feathers, so that they would be able to escape Crete.
Before taking flight, Daedalus warned Icarus about flying too low where the sea would clog his wings, or flying too high where the sun would melt the wax. Although Icarus did not listen to his father, and he flew too close to the sun, melting his wax and forcing him to drown in the sea. Williams narrative is almost imagery in entirety, he creates an image of the exact moment Icarus fell. In the first stanza of the poem the setting is introduced as Spring. Spring brings about the image of beautiful blooming flowers, fresh green grass, and the ideal, cheerful weather.
Williams paints a picture of a farmer working hard in the fields in lines four through six, representing that this day is just an average day. This also relates to the fourth stanza, where he uses personification to establish the point that the sea was not concerning itself with its surroundings, but instead only focusing on its own personal concerns. The sea seems to be a yellow flag, relaxed with little to no current. He utilizes sensual details to help the readers create an image comparable to Brueghel’s painting.
For instance, in line thirteen the thought of sweating in the sun makes the readers feel the sun beaming down on a warm Spring day. The splash mentioned in line nineteen is referred to as insignificant in line sixteen, making the reader feel like it is set off into the distance, like a dolphin. When someone sees a dolphin way out in the ocean he or she may not be able to hear the splash, but when the dolphin jumps up for that brief second the splash becomes clear to all senses.
Williams not only describes the painting, but he makes the readers feel as if they are a part of the experience, a bystander of the moment Icarus fell. Williams poem is a narrative that has free verse, and no definite rhyme scheme. “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” lacks both punctuation and capitalization. The absence of these key parts of sentence structure leads the readers to the impression that Williams narrative is meant to be read as one long, uninterrupted story. The flow of the poem is comparable to “The Copacabana Shot” from the movie Good Fellas, which was directed by Martin Scorsese.
The Copacabana Shot” shares the same trait as the poem in the sense that they both lack punctuation. Although Scorsese was in the movie business, and Williams was in the poetry business thirty years ahead of Good Fellas, the tempo in both the scene and the poem is one in the same. The lack of punctuation in Williams’s poem lets the reader float down a lazy river of imagery, all the way down to the fatal drop of Icarus. Meanwhile, Scorsese invites the audience to join Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and the soon to be Karen Hill (Lorraine Bracco) on a shot through the popular restaurant.
The flow of the camera doesn’t just let the audience in on the secret entrance that the couple takes but continues on with the couple through some back hallways, the kitchen, and through the whole restaurant to the front; a shot that feels like a whole night when in reality, it is an impressive one minute and eleven seconds long. Similar to “The Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,” the shot has no punctuation or commas in it where the audience can take a breath and think a bit. The other thing that is similar between the two is the witnesses.
In both, people were going about their business while the main attraction was making its way to center stage. The only difference is Icarus dies at the end as opposed to getting a front row table set up for him, with a pretty date, at a stand up comedy show, at the nicest restaurant around. “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” is filled with irony, which helps to support the central theme that things can dramatically change or even stop someone’s life, but the world seems to be unchanged and continuously moves forward.
Lines one through three in the first stanza is the first introduction of irony. Williams introduces the painting and the scene that is displayed, the fall of Icarus. Although the fall of Icarus is supposed to be a dark, tragic story, Williams informs the reader that it is Spring which is connected with happiness, new life, and the idea that nature that is forever continuing. In the third stanza, lines seven through nine, Williams is describing the landscape as “awake tingling near”.
This makes the readers feel like this day is fresh and full of life, when ironically, this is a poem of a tragic death. In the fifth stanza, Williams is passively describing how Icarus fell to his death, “sweating in the sun that melted the wings wax. ” The sun is what caused the wings’ wax to melt, ironically the thing that gives life caused Icarus’s death. In the last two stanzas, lines sixteen through twenty-one, Williams is referencing Icarus’s death as an insignificant thing, but in entirety it is a turn from the rest of the poem.
The irony is in the actuality that at the beginning of the poem Williams paints an image of spring, the birth of a new life, but that image is unexpectedly interrupted by death; a depressed and gloomy image. The biggest irony of it all is in the fact that the story of Icarus is called a “tragedy,” and rightly so, but the poem itself is filled with beautiful things. The poem paints the picture of a farmer at work in his beautiful pageantry on a nice Spring day.
The setting takes place on the coast, which one can conclude that the mixture of the sea breeze with fresh pageantry would make Yankee Candle jealous. The most marvelous part of this poem are the wings. The ability to fly on a pair of wings has been something of envy for mankind, as we have even categorized it as super human to fly on one’s own. Icarus had the once in multiple lifetimes chance to obtain his pair of wings, but due to his recklessness, the one thing that gives life to everything on earth, melted the wax that held his feathers and life together: the sun.
Williams portrays all these beautiful things to be distractions, not only to the witnesses of the death, but to the readers of the poem itself. Icarus was the la n itself. Icarus was the last thing to be mentioned in the poem and Icarus made his last appearance almost as if to conclude his life with the death of the poem, but all the beautiful distractions remain to keep the subconscious humans left on earth from seeing the tragedies that occur all around them.
In only twenty-one lines and fifty-six words, Williams manages to create an image, centered around Brueghel’s painting, of the day and scenery revolving around the tragic story of Icarus’s fall. The use of imagery, structure, and irony all connects together to construct the central meaning, things are always happening, good and bad, but most of the extremes seem to slip through the world fingers as if no one notices.