“Landscape with the Fall of Icarus”

XIR3675 Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, c.1555 (oil on canvas) by Bruegel, Pieter the Elder (c.1525-69); 73.5x112 cm; Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium; (add.info.: Icarus seen with his legs thrashing in the sea;); Giraudon; Flemish,  out of copyright
XIR3675 Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, c.1555 (oil on canvas) by Bruegel, Pieter the Elder (c.1525-69); 73.5×112 cm; Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium; (add.info.: Icarus seen with his legs thrashing in the sea;); Giraudon; Flemish, out of copyright

There is no need to even read this poem by William Carlos Williams to know that it is self-reflexive. The title already references both a Greek myth and the well-known Northern Renaissance painting by Pieter Bruegel. So, from the very beginning the poem proves its internal awareness about the existence of other works of art, and by doing so correlates itself with these two great works of art.

Both the poem and the painting contain a degree of self reflexivity. This is most obvious in the painting. Although “the fall of Icarus” is in the title, the only evidence of this occurrence is a minuscule pair of legs emerging from the ocean. Icarus and his death, the stars of the Greek myth, are insignificant to humanity as a whole. They have little to no effect on the every day farmer; to the point that none of the people in the painting seem to notice that a man with wings has fallen out of the sky and is now drowning.

Though the poem lacks the visual representation of this meaningless death, Williams uses words like “unsignificantly” and “unnoticed” to draw attention to the self-centered and unobservant tendencies of human nature. The poem does not celebrate the farmer, for his back breaking labor, or Icarus for his escape from prison, it only brings to light the truth that both of these acts have gone unnoticed. Perhaps Williams is saying that to succeed in life if it necessary to let go of your ego, and therefore, your accomplishments.

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