Thursday, April 21, 2011


Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, is now seen as a good early copy of Bruegel's original.

I see too,
remembering Auden's Icarus,
that when it comes to suffering
they are seldom wrong
these reporters and their cameras,
the way they catch tragedy on the human face,
and yet sometimes they fix for us
in their instants and afterimages
...something achingly beautiful, incandescent...
so human, so human rising up.

Take this picture of Redgrave for example.
I have kept it here on my desk,
for weeks now, have studied her expression...
hand gesturing for some ideal, tender,
perhaps clear only to her.
I have met those eyes, the lips
pursed to appeal from her side.
I know little of sides and battles,
but I know that face.

--Barbara Smith Stoff

Here is the poem which inspired me and my students:
By W.H. Auden
About suffering 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.
In Breughel's 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.
Copyright © 1976 by Edward Mendelson, William Meredith and Monroe K. Spears,
Executors of the Estate of W. H. Auden.
Pasted from

Here is another poem...this one from DOORS INTO POETRY, by Chad Walsh (Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1962)...
THE FALL OF ICARUS (From Brueghel's painting)
by Charles F. Madden
The bulging sails by a riotous wind caught
pull the ships and their rigging nets toward shore
to be emptied.  The sailors quickly will calm their floors
and their houses in the evening light will melt into the mountains.
And on the hill with one foot planted in the earth
his plowing almost done; his eyes cast down and fully shielded
from the sun which now is growing shadow, the farmer 
turns in soil and toil the final circles of the day.
Below him a quiet pastoral: on lichen bearing rocks
the feeding sheep, the quiet watching dog, the silent shepherd
so stalking with his eyes the homing flights of birds
that neither he nor the intent fisherman closer to the shore,
none has seen the silent fall of Icarus
through the riotous wind and the shadows of the coming evening light,
nor do they hear his sigh, both of pity and delight
of his remembrd waxed and winged flight.
--Charles F. Madden

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