“Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” was written by William Carlos Williams who wrote under the labels of modernist and imagist. He favored the preciseness of imagery with clear, sharp language. The intention was to illustrate his scenes without using symbols and minimal figurative language which might take away from his image. His poetry is meant to show impressions as masterful creations that are to be held aloft and reassuring to the reader.
This poem is based on a landscape painting by Flemish artist Pieter Brueghel the elder, which portrays a scene from Greek mythology but is set in the time of the artist. William’s purpose was to put words to the scene of the painting.
Icarus, son of Daedalus, took flight from imprisonment wearing the fragile wings his father had fashioned for him. Heedless of his father's warning to keep over the sea and avoid flying too close to the sun, the exuberant boy flew too near to the burning sun, which melted his wings. Icarus hurtled to the sea and death.
The type of poem is narrative because it tells a story. Written in free verse, there are no set stanzas and no distinct rhyme scheme. The poet creates three line stanzas which include enjambments. There is no punctuation or capitalization. His matter of fact language serves to link the pleasant scene of the landscape with the death of the young boy.
Changing with the turn of events, the tone of the poem begins with joy and happiness until the realization that Icarus is going to die. Then, the reader feels the more gloomy and depressing reality of death.
Thematically, the poem concerns the lack of awareness of the troubles of others when a person’s life is going well. The pain and tragedy that one person faces may go unnoticed to the rest of the world.
Summary of the poem
Williams creates a vivid image of the surrounding landscape. This takes away from the seemingly tragic death of Icarus, and overrides it with something as everyday as a pastoral landscape.
The poem describes the surrounding natural world and all of the spectacle of the time of year. A farmer is plowing his fields when Icarus falls. The scene is filled with life. No one pays any attention to the falling boy. As the reader gets further and further into the story, the reader joins Icarus as he falls from the sky and comes closer to his death. The sun was hot and melted the wax wings. There was a splash. Icarus fell into the sea and drowned
Off the coast
A splash quite unnoticed
Williams employed a clever way of inserting with a splash the sad, quiet death of Icarus.