Icarus Falling

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.

About suffering they were never wrong, 
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.

Over two years ago, I gave up drinking alcohol. After a lifetime of overindulgence, hospitalisations, degrading public spectacles and all the rest so well known to the friends of Bill W, I finally conceded that enough was enough and I was, as they say, ‘sick and tired of being sick and tired’.

I stopped just in time. Had I continued, I would now be in the same state as a friend whom I was glad to take to hospital yesterday. Here, any data protection legislation either isn’t enforced or is non-existent, so I had sight of a stack of medical records the size of a phonebook, cataloguing the damage, which was grievous, extensive and life-threatening. 

He had continued, almost undetected, for far too long. Suddenly, the wave broke. An avalanche then simply overwhelmed him and he fell from the sky. There is a dangerous verticality about tragedy when the wind in one’s hair and the exhilaration of living on the edge turns into an uncontrollable fall.
I do not know what will happen to him now and I can only watch as people work to salvage what they can and which he allows. I hope he stays in the hospital and does not attempt to discharge himself again, as has happened previously.

I am left with a feeling of profound sadness, yet inestimable gratitude. 

The image is of course (attrib) Pieter Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (c 1558) in the Musee des Beaux Arts, Brussels. The poem is framed underneath it. 

The ploughboy’s insouciant disregard for the tragedy is obvious.

One thought on “Icarus Falling

  1. I missed your birthday, sorry. Happy Birthday, How are things?Anyway here are some more line from Auden:Beloved, we are always in the wrong,Handling so clumsily our stupid lives,Suffering too little or too long,Too careful even in our selfish loves;The decorative manias we obeyDie in grimaces round us every day,Yet through their tohu-bohu comes a voiceWhich utters an absurd command-Rejoice.


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