Poetry Review: “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” by William Carlos Williams

"Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" by Brueghel

“Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” by Brueghel

On a recent weekend trip to Iowa, killing time waiting for Sue who was at her college band reunion, I was doing two things that I like best: browsing bookstores and samplings new beers. (I have often thought that in a perfect world there would be a combination used-books store and bar on every other corner. On the other corners there would be good, non-chain restaurants.)

In one bookstore a collection of William Carlos Williams caught my eye. It is one that I once owned myself but have misplaced over the years. A paperback copy, it was too beat-up and penciled-upto consider buying. But since I like flipping through books of poetry that others have already highlighted and marked-up to see what lines they may have liked or notes they may have made, I spent a few minutes with it anyway.

Turning pages I saw familiar and favorite poems and lines highlighted, notes made in a cramped and unfamiliar hand, and some poems that I had all but forgotten.

One unfamiliar poem in particular stood out, “Landscape with the Fall of Icaraus.” The previous owner had made no marks on the poem at all. That is why it originally caught my eye. Reading it I found myself amazed that I could I have read it all those years ago and forgotten it… not made the quick and lasting connection between it and Auden’s “Musee Des Beaux Art,” one of my favorite Auden poems… one of my favorite poems in general, and one I have reviewed here at MontanaWriterAuden’s “Musee Des Beaux Arts.”).

Both William Carlos Williams and W.H. Auden wrote poems based on one painting  “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” by Flemish painter Pieter Brueghel. The two poems are as different as the poets themselves. Williams the American poet. Auden ever the English one. Auden moving from larger ideas towards the painting itself. Williams beginning with the painting and transcending out. And yet in the end one common theme expressed in such different ways: tragedy going unnoticed.

On a beautiful Friday morning, I am thinking of poems I have read and forgotten. Of books and lines misplaced over time. I am thinking of the thousand connections we so easily miss. The way we miss so often what is most important as we go about our daily lives. I am thinking how glad I am that I picked up William Carlos Williams. How glad I am that a previous owner also missed the connection between Williams and Auden that I too had missed all those years ago. I am thinking how wonderful a thing poetry really is.


And then read Auden again ( Auden’s “Musee Des Beaux Arts.”).

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

Comments are closed.