Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Williams: Analysis & Overview

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  • 0:01 'Landscape with the…
  • 0:33 The Imagists
  • 1:15 Bruegel's Painting
  • 2:05 The Poem
  • 2:30 Analysis of the Poem
  • 3:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

In this lesson, you'll dive into the poem 'Landscape with the Fall of Icarus' by William Carlos Williams. You'll learn about what inspired this work and analyze the poem and its symbolism.

'Landscape with the Fall of Icarus'

Have you ever read a book that was so well-written you could picture everything perfectly in your mind? The Imagist poets worked to achieve this goal, creating poetry that could invoke images. One of the most famous examples of Imagist poetry is 'Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.' In this poem, William Carlos Williams recreates, in words, a famous painting by Pieter Bruegel. If he's done his job well, you should be able to imagine the painting and understand the poet's ideas about life at the same time.

The Imagists

The Imagist poetry movement began in the early 1900s. The idea was to write poems like artists painted pictures. Imagine that you wanted to create a campaign to stop bullying. One way to do it would be to make posters that say 'Stop Bullying!' An even better way would be to put an image on the poster. If you pick the right image of a defenseless kid being bullied, you could influence anyone who looked at your poster to feel strongly about bullying. In this case, the best way to convey your message is by presenting an image. The Imagist poets took that idea and applied it to poetry. Instead of telling the reader what they wanted to get across, they tried to show it in carefully chosen images.

Bruegel's Painting

Before we examine William Carlos Williams' poem, we should first go over the Bruegel painting that inspired it. The painting was itself inspired by one Greek myth that relates a story about a father and a son team. The father, Daedalus, built artificial wings to allow his son, Icarus, to fly away from where they had been imprisoned. Icarus got a little too excited about the ability to fly, and even though his father told him not to, he flew too close to the sun, which melted the wax in the wings and caused Icarus to fall.

The painting by Pieter Bruegel captures the day that Icarus attempted to fly and plummeted to the ocean. In the painting, it's spring. There are images of farming, of herds of animals, and of merchant vessels at sea. There's also a tiny set of legs and a little splash where Icarus hits the ocean.

The Poem

According to Bruegel
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

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