Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew. It’s the same when love comes to an end, or the marriage fails and people say they knew it was a mistake, that everybody said it would never work. That she was old enough to know better. But anything worth doing is worth doing badly.
~ Jack Gilbert, “Failing and Flying”
I’ve never been one to enjoy studying Greek mythology. Somewhere around the second or third name of a god my attention span skids to a halt and my brain refuses to entertain another piece of information. Always has been that way.
Except for Icarus.
The story of Icarus always fascinated me. Perhaps it was the idea of his ambition, his desire to fly further, farther, closer, even at his own peril. Perhaps it was pride that sent him falling. Perhaps trying to flee, or trying to be free. Perhaps it was my interest in aviation and flight.
Most often the story and images focus on the fall of Icarus, the failed attempt. Bruegel’s painting above is one of the most famous. I first encountered that work after reading a piece by W.H. Auden who commented about the work:
In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster, the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green water,
And the expensive ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
Honestly, I think it is simply the desire, the quest, that appeals to me. Why I like the lines by Jack Gilbert so much — most people often forget that Icarus did in fact fly.
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