Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Icarus

W.C. Williams's poem "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" is a tragedy in both the greatest and least human sense. Several scholars, including Audrey T. Rogers argue that Williams is expressing anxiety about his own art being ignored. While this theory is interesting, and has precedent in other Williams's poem, most notably The Red Wheelbarrow, it is inherently flawed. For Williams is casting aside humanity altogether, suggesting we are merely a blip to nature. It is highly unlikely that Williams would be expressing his own issues about being an ignored artist while simultaneously suggesting that humans generally are ignored by nature.

What's fascinating about the poem is that Williams takes one of the most human tropes, that if you have too much pride you get burned, and twists it to suggest that none of it matters anyways. Instead of nature being a backdrop for us, we are a backdrop for nature, merely props in a sort of grand design of the world. Our deaths are expected, ignored and insignificant.

I would like to disagree with Williams, and to say that we all matter in the grand scheme of things. However, I think of the events of this year and wonder how many times we've all attempted to overcome nature, only to be thrown back by it. And I can't help but wonder if my own life will be "a splash quite unnoticed."

Okay that was kind of depressing, but worth thinking about. Maybe it doesn't have to be so depressing. If we cease to take ourselves so seriously, maybe we can live happier, more productive lives that aren't constantly wondering what the purpose of it is. If we are just another part of nature, lets be that and let everything else run its course. Why do I need to be so noticed anyways? It clearly doesn't bring happiness, but in fact creates more stress.

1 comment:

Kim-the librarian said...

It is interesting that you see this piece as man vs. nature. Especially since reference to the artwork itself has a farmer, prominent in his location and his lush red sleeves, as the centerpiece of the work. WCW refers to spring and it’s pageantry. Normally one might assume a favorable comparison between ardent youth and spring, but not in this case because pride separates Icarus from nature. Nature then punishes Icarus, casting him into the waters to his death. Therefore, I do not see nature “ignoring humanity” but seeking to keep it in check. In fact, it is the separation from nature, i.e. artifice, which the poem and the painting rail against. In which case I think your conclusion is correct. As long as we are plain farmers, toiling the soil of our lives, working honestly through each season and not aspiring to that which we are not meant to have, we will be happy in nature. That which we plant in spring, we have faith will flower in summer and ripen in fall—as long as we allow nature to take its course.

"And the less I seek my soul/Closer I am to fine..."
-The Indigo Girls