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Landscape With The Fall Of Icarus

William Carlos Williams

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Added by: Sean Wayman
It is worth examining the title, "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" first of all, as it gives us a clue to the theme of this intricate poem. The death of Icarus gets 'second billing' to the landscape it occurs in. This introduces the main theme of the poem; that what is a tragedy to one person will often be a matter of complete indifference to the rest of the world. We are told that the world in which Icarus falls to earth is, "concerned with itself" and the adverb "unsignirficantly" is used to express the attitude of the farmer to the 'catastrophe' of Icarus.
Very likely Williams saw Breughel's painting as being highly relevant to a modern world in which tens of millions of people had been killed or injured in the cataclysm of World War One. Williams tacitly endorses this view of reality while at the same time withholding his endorsement of indifference. After all there are some unpleasant contrasts made in the text. The landscape of the poem is depicted as lively,. even merry. The word 'pageantry' suggests celebration and merriment for example and the word 'awake' purposefully anthropomorphizes the year. The world of nature may be 'awake', meaning full of life and movement but Icarus is drowning in the water below and no one is going to try and save him. This juxtaposition of life and death is meant to force the reader from his/her complacency and question their own attitude towards the suffering of others.
Yet surely there is also a degree of self-interrogation in all this. Williams after all is something of a landscape poet himself, returning again and again to flowers, landscapes, objects and street scenes in his work. Surely Williams is questioning not only the world's indifference to the suffering of others but his own. There is some anxiety here about whether his own aestheticism means he neglects the political and moral struggles of the world.

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