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Friday, 9 March 2012

Bill of Lading


Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1555 (Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels)

I loaded all my forgetfulness chips
on the boat, that's her down there
in the harbor I can no longer recall

the name of, work remains to be done
and with these burnt wings I can't afford
to be looking down on anyone.

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (detail)
: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1555 (Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels)

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (detail): Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1555 (Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels)


Hazen said...

Better a pair of singed wings than not taking flight at all. I always get a lift coming here.

Anonymous said...

Our imagination gets crowded with memories often very vivid and affecting The mind too is capable of fantasy of invention of Vision some say What to make of this function of the human mind?

Anonymous said...

This is where I was engaged just before reading your post Tom:-

In the beginning

was mainly imagination

then history and memories
crowding fragmenting
the mind

Looking for grip and purchase . . .
Is only a matter of time?

That we discover love
in the making

unlimited scope

Ones original face



According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field. . .


light coming into sky above still black
ridge, white circle of moon in branches
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

so that is, in what is part
by means of such here

in picturing, most in shape,
action in the face of

cloudless blue sky to the left of point,
sunlit shoulder of ridge across from it

William A. Sigler said...

That's an excellent poem, and as such things go, there are no good words.

Anonymous said...

A really thought provoking poem Tom which had me going off in all directions It sparked a memory too of a poem from my childhood which referred to the Plimsoll Line?? Well I couldn't find it

The Plimsoll Line

When he famously lost his temper
in England’s House of Commons
as his wife scattered copies of protest from the ladies' gallery onto the press gallery beneath her his anger was against the greed of those who required others to risk life and limb
in order to maximise their gains

His cause was for the doomed sailors saying farewell to their sweethearts the desperate mariners clinging to the masts of sinking ships
and against the indifference of
owners and a certain flunkey captain who painted a Plimsoll mark on the funnel of his ship

TC said...

Thank you all. Finding words when there are no words, wading through the thickets of memory and time until toward the end of history and time there comes the discovery of something like an ungrasping love in the making -- elusive, in the form of humility perhaps, at last, in an open field of unlimited scope, paradoxically all but without affect -- ah, to have aspired to mean these things, from the depths of a slough of weary-peasant decrepitude!

And about the image(s)...

This famous painting, in oil on canvas, long dated 1559 and attributed to Bruegel the Elder, was subjected to technical examination in the mid-1990s and determined, then, to likely be a copy of Bruegel the Elder's original, and made, perhaps, in the 1560s.

And it appears not to be the only copy.

Another version, discovered later, differs in some significant details. It is painted in oil on wood; the figure of Daedalus appears in the sky on the upper left (suggesting an explanation for the skyward gaze of the resting peasant in the center of the picture); and the sun, rather than setting on the horizon, is positioned above, at zenith.

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus: Bruegel Circle, c. 1583 (van Buuren version, oil on wood, with Daedalus in sky at upper left, and sun at zenith)

The "story", of course comes from Ovid; the painting thus represents Bruegel's only known excursion into mythological ekphrasis.

As to the "message", it's been proposed that the inability to empathize with the sufferings of others, an all-too-human trait, as illustrated in one of the Flemish proverbs which Bruegel depicted elsewhere -- "And the farmer continued to plough..." (En de boer ... hij ploegde voort") -- may provide a thematic explanation as to why that ploughman doesn't appear much concerned with the body splashing from the sky into the water.

As to my own version, its history reaches back into long ruminations upon one of the older tropes of Western poetry, first appearing in Petrarch: Rime CLXXXIX: Passa la nave mia colma d’oblio, coming over into rough English a few hundred years later in Thomas Wyat: Sonnet XXVIII: My galy charged with forgetfulness, and updated variously in the XX century, e.g. in Frank O'Hara: To the Harbormaster: I wanted to be sure to reach you and in John Berryman: Sonnet 15: What was Ashore, then?... Cargoed with Forget .

TC said...


Very interesting that -- your comment had crossed with mine, and now it's added an interesting new dimension to this quiet little meditation in the night.

Early variations of Mr Samuel Plimsoll's useful rule -- prescribing the marking of a load line on the hulls of ships, indicating the maximum safe draft, and therefore the minimum freeboard for the vessel in various operating conditions, thus preventing overloading -- probably reduced the shipwreck toll more than somewhat, over all those perilous seagoing centuries, like the one (XVIth) in which Thomas Wyat anxiously sailed on diplomatic (or espionage) assignments.

The sailor's friend undoubtedly saved the skin of many a mariner, poetic voyagers aside.

In a broader sense, we whose wobbly and leaky old vessels are overloaded with remembering and forgetting certainly do need some practical or objective guide to help us maintain at least a semblance of balance.

But, while all rules are perhaps not made to be broken, they are all (much as those who sail the choppy seas of life) subject to rust and corrosion over the years -- and yes this too applies to the Plimsoll line.

Like this one on the Alexander Grin, a timber ship, they regularly require a fresh paint job.

(And one supposes that must be a job for the more spry and youthful maritime artists of the shipyard.)

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

They "fell out of the blue"--your fine poem and Bruegel's masterpiece, as I have the painting on my desktop and can admire it and all it represents every time I set sail on the seas of forgetfulness with my logbook in hand trying to set everything down.

TC said...

The rub is finding that unintelligible inkblot spilt across the page of the logbook in the bleary dawn after what seemed the perfect storm.

Anonymous said...

I'm familiar with the "message" which has been suggested that the dull peasant is unaware of the tragic dimension around him I used to think that the painter empathised more with Icarus than the peasant farmer Now I'm not so sure that is the case

I think of ploughing as a metaphor in Buddhist teaching and William Blake too urged us to plough over the bones of the dead

The action of writing is very reminiscent at the mechanical level to ploughing

The picture and the poem are very complex and given to a range of readings

Both are excellent compositions

TC said...

I think the downward view of the ploughman upon the earth, tending to his work, sets the bar for our empathic response here.

However, the second, upward-gazing peasant, whether he is awestruck by the missing Deadalus or is merely woolgathering, also figures -- a second point of empathy (for me at least -- does he remind me of myself, forever finding reasons for not getting down to work?).

Neither the indifference of the preoccupied nor the gaping of the dumbstruck, however, stray outside the strictly limited, imperfect and common standard of what we take to be the human.

None will e'er know where (if anywhere) the painter placed or did not place his sympathies, in this endlessly fascinating work.

But it is a work of distance and perspective, and from this particular distance and perspective (slightly skewed perhaps, a sleepless night), it's hard to feel much sympathy for the fellow who would have soared out of the human condition, and for his folly ended up in the drink.

But oh, I suppose that too is a human, all-too-human, earth-bound thing to attempt to do.

ACravan said...

Sometimes coming late to the party has its advantages. For one thing, you can definitely feel it's a great party when you walk in the room. Funny that I had kind of forgotten about this painting, but I'm very glad to be reminded of it. The poem really describes lines in dreams I've had -- flying/falling/terminal doubt ones -- and still keep having. My daughter thinks it's weird when I just start laughing when nothing funny has been said (or breaking out of complete silence in the room), but it's realizations like this turning to mental sensations that causes it. As Bob Hope might have said, thanks for the memory. Curtis

Nin Andrews said...

I LOVE this poem, and I've always loved that painting.

I think it's interesting how we always talk of someone's life in terms of how far, how much, how great . . .

which is the time of life which Jung called the statesmen time--the years when one might somehow accomplish X or not

which reminds me of my grandmother who once said she had lived through all the stages of girlhood and womanhood--she had been a child, a girl, a maiden, an old maid, a married woman, a mother, and a widow-and-grandmother. To which she added blithely--the last was her favorite.

To which she added--there is so much in a life that one wishes to forget. And rewrite into a better life.

Not that I expect to agree with her, but I do think, as a child, I so agreed with the comment "better a pair of singed wings than not taking flight at all"
back when I thought flying was everything.

And now as an aging one, I think only how nice it is to walk on the ground. Let those other fly around and sing their airy songs . . .

TC said...

Thanks very, very much Curtis and Nin.

I so love the idea of all those shimmering, butterfly-wing worlds, grandmother's life stages. How good it must have been to have had all those. I think it's probably down to the original gene-kit finally, the chips as it were.

Lately "one" has indeed been in a bit of a state, speaking of as 'tweres... but something tells me that may not be quite enough to qualify for bonafide statesmanship.

(The forget-and-rewrite capabilities of the code, found wanting.)

But I equally so do love the mere IDEA of dreams, Curtis (same goes for the idea of laughter) -- and for that matter would even settle for a wee smidgeon of quiet dreamless slumber, one of these awkward crooked-number centuries. (The singed wings lying over the corner... a goo-ey pool of grey, cooling wax.)

Anonymous said...

Yes our perspective changes all the time and it can undergo quantum shifts in the course of a lifetime Discomfitting as it may be i do like when a work provides for varying perspectives provokes further thinking ..... made to hold and deal with the contradictions rather than be provided with any definite "answer"

The "forget-and-rewrite capabilities of the code, found wanting." is certainly a haunting consideration

My "peasant" labour is as a carpenter restoring and repairing mainly old or historic buildings There are very practical considerations in the building or rebuilding of any structure but the nature of the work confronts me with the principle of impermanence every day and challenges me what to do about it
I am still engaged in some very heavy physical work But approaching my mid-fifties another "career" is also much on my mind

TC said...

Well, to accept the the changes in perspective is to adapt with life. That's wisdom (he said from afar). Sounds as though your challenging work has kept you very much alive. I envy the physical capacity. Adaptation to its dissipation is another challenge. As to a change in kind of work, I'm still thinking about this very interesting comment:

"The action of writing is very reminiscent at the mechanical level to ploughing"

Here's to further thinking. Field work... and pastures new as was once said.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

I'm absolutely enthralled with the two different versions of of this painting. In the second, Icarus is portrayed twice, once as in the original, and once above. Is that right, Tom?

I couldn't find a blown up version of the later version.

TC said...


In the van Buuren version (see link in my first comment), I think that's the careful artificer Daedalus, wary of the sun, with wings still working, up there in the sky.

From Bulfinch's Age of Fable:

"The labyrinth from which Theseus escaped by means of the clew of Ariadne, was built by Daedalus, a most skilful artificer. It was an edifice with numberless winding passages and turnings opening into one another, and seeming to have neither beginning nor end, like the river Meander, which returns on itself, and flows now onward, now backward, in its course to the sea. Daedalus built the labyrinth for King Minos, but afterwards lost the favor of the king, and was shut up in a tower. He contrived to make his escape from his prison, but could not leave the island by sea, as the king kept strict watch on all the vessels, and permitted none to sail without being carefully searched. 'Minos may control the land and sea,' said Daedalus, 'but not the regions of the air. I will try that way.' So he set to work to fabricate wings for himself and his young son Icarus. He wrought feathers together beginning with the smallest and adding larger, so as to form an increasing surface. The larger ones he secured with thread and the smaller with wax, and gave the whole a gentle curvature like the wings of a bird. Icarus, the boy, stood and looked on, sometimes running to gather up the feathers which the wind had blown away, and then handling the wax and working it over with his fingers, by his play impeding his father in his labors. When at last the work was done, the artist, waving his wings, found himself buoyed upward and hung suspended, poising himself on the beaten air. He next equipped his son in the same manner, and taught him how to fly, as a bird tempts her young ones from the lofty nest into the air. When all was prepared for flight, he said, 'Icarus, my son, I charge you to keep at a moderate height, for if you fly too low the damp will clog your wings, and if too high the heat will melt them. Keep near me and you will be safe.' While he gave him these instructions and fitted the wings to his shoulders, the face of the father was wet with tears, and his hands trembled. He kissed the boy, not knowing that it was for the last time. Then rising on his wings he flew off, encouraging him to follow, and looked back from his own flight to see how his son managed his wings. As they flew the ploughman stopped his work to gaze, and the shepherd learned on his staff and watched them, astonished at the sight, and thinking they were gods who could thus cleave the air.

"They passed Samos and Delos on the left and Lebynthos on the right, when the boy, exulting in his career, began to leave the guidance of his companion and soar upward as if to reach heaven. The nearness of the blazing sun softened the wax which held the feathers together, and they came off. He fluttered with his arms, but no feathers remained to hold the air. While his mouth uttered cries to his father, it was submerged in the blue waters of the sea, which thenceforth was called by his name. His father cried, 'Icarus, Icarus, where are you?' At last he saw the feathers floating on the water, and bitterly lamenting his own arts, he buried the body and called the land Icaria in memory of his child. Daedalus arrived safe in Sicily, where he built a temple to Apollo, and hung up his wings, an offering to the god."