Today's word is ekphrasis.

Or shall I begin by saying:
Speaking of William Carlos Williams...

An ekphrasis is when a writer interprets visual art as a literary work.

This post is a lesson in Analysis 101. My three favorite toga boys were into ekphrasis.  Here's a little William Carlos Williams for you; it's one of my favorite poems of all time, and one of my favorite works of art, and one of my favorite myths.

The story of old Icarus and Daedalus goes like this:

Daedalus was Icarus's daddo.  We'll call him Papa D.  Papa D was one of these super smart extra talented types you call when you need anything done crafty.  He built a big old disco for the god of wine's wifey, for example...it would have taken some serious skills to please the queen of the original club kids (by the way, I came of age in the mid-90s and I thought club kids were amazing...my interest in them was piqued when I was with my folks at Wal-Mart late one night and there were maybe three young people in costume [I believe one was a skeleton but we are talking twenty years ago here] and one of my parents commented something about "It's the Club Kids." My dad was working for Barraza a lot those days, one of the formative Tulsa scene guys, and these were his younger days...I can bet he would have come into contact with them at SRO or perhaps IKON, both places I was too young to reasonably hope to get into and certainly not with my dad running security there...but I digress...).  

So Papa D was such a rock star at building and making things that he was a popular guy.  Meanwhile, the King of Minos married a lady with a penchant for bestiality (don't be so shocked...the ancient Greeks were freaky like James Brown), and as a result of her animal love she'd borne a son only a mother could love, the Minotaur.  In fact, crafty Papa D had even created for her a special wooden cow contraption to climb into so the bull would want to get with her, but that's another story.  But what do you do with your wife's bastard man-bull-beast child?  Build a labyrinth.  And who you gonna call to build it?  The Bob Vila of Athens (or Crete, depending on whose version you hear), Papa D.

So Daedo created this rocking labyrinth to keep the ugly stepchild in and all these other cool gadgets and whatsits and naturally started to get a little self-absorbed.  Everything was going great until his nephew came along and one-upped him a few too many times, inventing both the saw and the compass.  Suddenly, everyone was hot for the new kid in town, and this Papa D could not abide, so he did what any nurturing uncle would do to resolve their differences...he shoved him from the heights of the Acropolis.  Fortunately, they were on Athena's turf (Athens), and she, a woman who was super into gadgetry and gizmo-ery, turned the nephew into what we now know as the partridge.  Needless to say, she was super pissed at Papa D.  She banished him, and to make matters worse, the labyrinth came back to bite him in the arse.  The king of Minos imprisoned him and his son on Crete so he couldn't tell anyone about the king's Dirty Little Secret.

Papa D, being a smart man, made some wax wings for him and for his son, Icarus.  He warned Icarus that if he flew high, the sun would melt his wings, but for poor Icarus, this was just entirely too tempting.  Like his daddy, he got bit by the narcissism bug, and high on himself, flew so close to the sun that his wax wings melted and soon he was just flapping his little arms, until at last he fell down and became shark bait or fish food or whatever.

The lesson of the myth is, "Don't get too big for your breeches," as my mom would say, and if you look at Williams' interpretation of Bruegel, their common footnote seems to be, "When you do and those little old wings melt, people got other stuff to do than worry about your little legs kicking around in the sea." So remember, people, only fly your wax wings on overcast days.  And wear a life preserver.  Without further ado:

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring
a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry
of the year was
awake tingling
the edge of the sea
with itself
sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings' wax
off the coast
there was
a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning


Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Pieter Bruegel (authorship is actually now debatable but whatever)

1 comment:

KJG said...

Hi! You recently posted a comment on my blog and I simply want to thank you. You're right that our beliefs are not the same, but there is truth in the parable you shared with me. I actually used it yesterday to encourage a friend. Thank you again.

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