Part of what I'm going to suggest in this project is probably a horrible thing to do to a perfectly lovely poem, on the one hand; but, on the other, it is, perhaps, a way of explicating it and, at the same time, illustrating how we use punctuation to make meaning. William Carlos Williams, a 20th Century American poet (and physician) wrote a moving and descriptive poem that captures the essentially existential message embodied in the painting "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus," a work completed circa 1558 by the Dutch painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525?-1569). First, get familiar with the works of Williams and Breughel by browsing the links. We will discuss some of the basic characteristics of these artists' work in class, so ask yourself what qualities characterize their paintings and poems.
Before doing that though, it is necessary to know something about the Icarus myth, so read a short version of the story about Daedalus and his son Icarus by following link to the Greek Myths & Greek Mythology, and read a somewhat more in-depth version of the story of Daedalus and Icarus at Myth Man's Greek Mythology Today web site. Like most versions of Greek myths we read today, these vary slightly. Give some thought as to why that is the case because we will discuss that topic briefly in class.
After you are familiar with the myth, come back to this page and study Bruegel's painting below; contemplate what the painting says about the nature of myths in the everyday world.
On a "Microsoft Word" document with your name at the top (or names if we do it as group assignment), write these three paragraphs:
Paragraph 1, a summary: What did Icarus do? Write a paragraph which summarizes the myth as if you are telling it to someone who does not know it.
Paragraph 2, critical interpretations:
Task 3, reformatting and editing: Finally, highlight the text of the poem to copy it (right click your mouse button); then paste the poem into your M.S. Word document. Without rewording it in any way, reformat the poem into grammatically complete prose sentences and punctuate them correctly so that it describes the painting and conveys its meaning as would a description of the painting in an art history book. Williams punctuates the poem only by use of a few capital letters, an apostrophe to indicate possession, and by the arrangement of the lines. However, formatted and punctuated differently, the poem could be used as a descriptive caption under a reprint of the painting in an art history book. And that's what I'd like you to do. Double space the whole document.
Task 4, preview the other poems and paintings about the story of Icarus (links at the bottom of this page) and be prepared to discuss why the depictions of this story vary so much and why it has generated so many diverse types of poems.
"Landscape with the Fall of Icarus"
by William Carlos Williams
According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring
a farmer was ploughing
the whole pageantry
of the year was
the edge of the sea
sweating in the sun
the wings' wax
off the coast
a splash quite unnoticed
Read some other wonderful poems about the painting by Bruegel or about the Icarus myth
Essay writing prompts based on the myth and the painting.
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