Posted by: John Looker | 3 January, 2010


Here’s an optimistic bit of verse about     
the myth of Icarus and Daedalus,
something with a different perspective from that of
two famous poets on the same subject.

(This is the painting alluded to by WH Auden in his poem “Musée des Beaux Arts” and by William Carlos Williams in “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” : Pieter Breugel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, in the Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels.)


Why is it always Icarus we choose to paint,
and not the other one?

Musées des Beaux Arts are all the same :
they display pictures in which a conventional muse
has led yet another artist to use up paint
on the doomed youth.
High in a haze of beating feathers,
or plunging dismayed into the deep green water,
it’s old news.

What about What’s-his-name who also flew?
And superbly!

The soaring aspiration, the learning, the balls!
The long working day! Someone should paint
the steady arc he drew over the world’s curve,
should catch the elation,
the victory rolls, the whoops of Yaroooooo!
Olé-ééééé !

© John Stevens 2010

Icarus, by Matisse


This looks like free verse, unrhymed. But it can also be written out as a regular 14-line sonnet, with octet and sextet in iambic pentameter, rhyming abbaabba cdecde. That’s how it started life – but the poem itself wanted to fly free of the maze.



  1. LOVELY!! : D


  2. Dedalus? Yes. The Artist!!! Thanks.


    • Were you thinking of James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus? You know, your comment has made me see my own poem in a new light. It has been read 436 times since it was posted a year ago (and it still gets hits every day) but I’ve only just realised that Daedalus can be seen as an image for poets or artists themselves. At the time, I just saw it as a celebration of positive thinking, commitment, the never-give-up spirit.


  3. yay!
    great line!
    “The soaring aspiration, the learning, the balls!
    The long working day!”


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