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Friday, September 4, 2009

A Splash Quite Unnoticed

I was in high school when I somehow discovered Brueghel's picture 'Fall of Icarus'. I remember I was so moved by it and the powerful message behind it - no one pays any attention to Icarus drowning: the plougman continues ploughing, the shepherd keeps staring at the sky while Icarus is disappearing in the sea.

The witnesses' attitude could be either interpreted as an 'apathy to suffering' or 'apathy to dying dreams'. Or....maybe as a 'It serves him well' attitude, kind of punishment by the common people for Icarus' daring and curiosity.

When I was in high school I understood it more like 'an apathy to dreams' or 'the loneliness of the flight '.

It is funny, it seems to me now that the landscape really resembles the Ligurian coast south-east from Genoa and reading about Brueghel's life he really travelled to Italy before moving to Brussels.

Anyway, it is a beautiful picture and if you want to appreciate it, you have to enlarge it or...go and see in in Musee des Beaux Arts in Brussels.

The Fall of Icarus, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

That's exactly what W.H. Auden did in 1938, a visit which gave birth to the beautiful poem below. Auden mostly saw it as 'an indifference to suffering', a small curiosity maybe.

Musee des Beaux Arts, W.H.Auden

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.

It is quite clear that this theme was close to Brueghel's heart as a similar motive is repeated in the picture below - Procession to Cavalry - where hardly anybody is paying attention to Jesus walking to Cavalry.

The Procession to Cavalry, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

By the way, I didn't have a similar problem this evening as while we were walking into the house with Boris and Andrej, Boris made me an offer 'Daddy, do you want us to pay attention to you now?'

* The title is a line from Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, William Carlos Williams


Jelica said...

boris rocks! xxx

Ruslan said...

:-) Yes, he said 'Tati, iskash li da ti obrystame vnimanie?'