Auden’s poem on the fall of Icarus suggests that strange and disturbing events occur against a backdrop of people going about their ordinary business. Nobody would have understood the matrix of events leading up to the fateful journey or heard the stern admonitions of Daedalus, the architect of the Cretan labyrinth, as he counselled his son not to push the envelope and sail so dangerously close to the Sun. A passerby could only have watched either with detached disinterest or with horror as the boy plummeted, like a shot pheasant, into the sea.
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’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 delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.