Landscape With The Fall Of Icarus Essay

The story of Icarus and Daedalus, a Greek myth:

Icarus’ father, Daedalus, gives him wings. The feathers of the wings were made out of wax. Daedalus warns Icarus not to fly too close to the sun. Disobeying his father, Icarus flew towards the sun, melted his wings, and fell into the sea below and drowned.

I’ve been studying the life and works of the Flemish Renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder  for a few months now. He is often remembered as the greatest painter to emerge from the 16th century. Bruegel’s genre and landscape scenes are what inspired him the most and earned him the name “Peasant Bruegel”. His works displayed honest depictions of the peasant life and the rural country sides. Towards the end of his career, Bruegel became increasingly interested with the human figure and its relationship with the natural world. In all his paintings, human activity is the dominant theme. In the 1560’s, Bruegel painted “Landscape With The Fall of Icarus”.

Analysis of the painting:

  • Narrative- tells a story
  • Demonstrates Bruegel’s awareness of folklore stories, as well as the classical stories.
  • Perspective- seen from above, Daedalus’ viewpoint
  • Icarus is not the focus of the painting. His legs are dangling in the air as he drowns in the lower right hand corner. None of the onlookers stop and try to save him. Although it would seem that the painting’s subject is Icarus, this is not the case. Bruegel was more interested on depicting the average worker, the lower class in the correct light. There is a larger focus on the shepherd tending to his animals than there is on Icarus’ drowning scene. One can even interpret the placement of Icarus as a last-minute addition to the composition of the painting.
  • Sense of scale- Small figures in the distance vs. larger figures in the foreground.
  • Beautiful use of light and color- the sun in the background illuminates the painting and gives a sense of new life and warmness.

Last week, I was talking to my art history teacher about the artist and his influence on today’s modern art and literature. The American poet William Carlos Williams wrote “The Landscape With The Fall of Icarus” upon seeing the painting by Bruegel. This is the poem with a brief analysis:


“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”


Alliteration- “wings wax”, “sweating in the sun”

Image- 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 average as landscape.

Irony- Williams describes the landscape and surrounding community as “awake tingling” which is ironic the poem is supposed to be about death. Throughout the entire poem, Williams is “painting a picture” for the reader and illuminates the natural world. Strangely enough, the last line is “this was Icarus drowning”. The reader would think the last line would continue to be about the landscape. In my opinion these words about Icarus are the most powerful.

Narrative poem- The poem tells a story. Williams tells us of Icarus’ fall and includes many contextual details. “sweating in the sun that melted the wings’ wax” From the beginning of the poem, the reader is involved with Icarus’ flight through the sky. As the reader gets further and further into the story, he or she is falling from the sky and getting closer to the death of Icarus.

Rhyme/Rhyme scheme- Free verse, no specific rhyme scheme

Symbol- “a splash quite unnoticed”- translated into- a death goes unnoticed

Title- The death of Icarus goes almost unnoticed and doesn’t get as much attention as the surrounding landscape and activity. Williams writes that the world which Icarus falls to is “concerned with itself”. The figures on land feel indifferent about this tragedy.

Tone- The tone- joyous, merry- seems to be ironic considering the turn of events towards the end of the poem. The poem is in reality about death. However, the tone is not depressing or gloomy.

Theme- Every single human being lives for them self. Sometimes, the pain and tragedy one person is facing goes unnoticed to the rest of the world.

Stanza- Williams steers away from the traditional poem meter and format. Instead he creates short, 3 line stanzas, each including enjambments. The poem seems to be a long run-on sentence and doesn’t use punctuation or capital letters.


I read this poem several times and it definitely made me think. Having a visual as I read made it easy for me to make connections between the two. I really enjoyed being able to connect the poem with something I love and study often- art. Art is timeless. It is constantly evolving, and will always have a strong influence.

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Landscape With The Fall Of Icarus

In the poem, "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" by William Carlos Williams, the author has an optimistic attitude towards death. Instead of a mournful setting, Williams makes you see the good things that can come out of the situation.

Williams scarcely talks about Icarus' death. The first four stanzas of the poem talks about the landscape and the plowing of the field, while only the last stanza even mentions Icarus' death. No one paid much attention to his death; it was just "a splash quite unnoticed." Life should move on and should not come to a screeching halt just because a person died. Death should not need to be viewed as the end of mankind. We should be able to carry on with our daily lives.

The author views life from death. The farmer continues his plowing of the field when Icarus fell from above. The farmer plows so he can grow new crops, showing that something's end become a start of something new. When one person passes on they make room for another person to live. This cycle continues everyday. If people didn't die then there would be an over-populated world, yet if no babies were born then the human race would slowly come to an end. Another example of this cycle are the waves. A series waves are created and come crashing into the shore, once on the shore the waves are dead, but another series of waves follow behind.

Although the poem is...

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