Icarus

Now some are born to fly high
Some are born to follow
Some are born to touch the sky
And some walk in the hollow
But as I watched your body fall
I knew that really you had won
For your grave was not the earth
But the reflection of the sun

“Icarus” by Anne Lister

Icarus                        ©2013 by                     J.P. Bohannon

Icarus
illustration by jpbohannon © 2013

The mythological character Icarus has been a buzzword at my job recently. Many of us on the staff have been reading a book called The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin. To be honest, it is not my kind of read–more of a marketing, business oriented approach to things with a fair mixture of Dr. Phil and Oprah thrown in–but it has me thinking about Icarus.

I have always had a soft-spot for him. (See my post “Breughel, Auden and the Death of my Mother” from 2012/8/19.) There is something more than heroic in his quest, in his attempt at flying to the sun–(and I don’t want to hear any of the archetypal “primal disobedience” stuff at the moment. Sure, wasn’t it his old man, that grand artificer Daedelus, that had gotten them both locked up in the first place, locked up in that “inescapable” prison, because of his own disobedience and rebellion.)

And the more I think of it, Icarus’s “disobedience” IS NOT the story. The story is THE FLIGHT, where the tips of his wings glow white and gold with sunlight, where he becomes–for a moment–transcendent. It is all about the attempt, about the individual’s need to push further, to soar higher. For in a large way, to stop pushing forward is the real death by drowning.

No one had flown before Icarus and his father, but what we seem to remember is his drowning. That’s the wrong focus entirely.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

In a previous life, I wrote ad-copy for an agency. And I listened to a lot of music on a good old disc-player. If it was critical, creative stuff I needed to be writing, I used classical music or Irish trad or instrumental guitar. If it was mindless stuff, I listened to songs.

MartinSimpson

Martin Simpson

It was during this time that I became enamored with the guitar work and songs of a man named Martin Simpson. His playing was exquisite, intricate and beautiful and when he did sing a song, his voice was strong yet vulnerable. Until this weekend, I hadn’t listened to him in a long while although I must own four or five of his albums. But Icarus was in my head, and he had done a cover of Anne Lister’s song “Icarus” that I loved a lot and which never failed to choke me up. Told from the point of view of someone too timid to take a risk, too hesitant to make that leap, the song nevertheless details the pride and admiration he/she has for Icarus and what he has done. I always knew that the lump in my throat was not so much for Icarus but for his companion who “never wanted to fly high.”

Here are the full lyrics:

I never wanted to fly high
I was too fond of walking
So when you said you`d touch the sky
I thought it was your way of talking
And then you said you`d build some wings
You`d found out how it could be done
But I was doubtful of everything
I never thought you`d reach the sun

You were so clever with your hands
I`d watch you for hours
With the glue and rubber bands
The feathers and the lace and flowers
And the finished wings glowed so bright
Like some bird of glory
I began to envy you your flight
Like some old hero`s story

You tried to get me to go with you
You tried all ways to dare me
But I looked at the sky so blue
I thought the height would scare me
But I carried your wings for you
Up the path and to the cliff face
Kissed you goodbye and watched your eyes
Already bright with sunlight

It was so grand at the start
To watch you soaring higher
There was a pain deep in my heart
Your wings seemed tipped with fire
Like some seagull or a lark
Soaring forever
Or some ember or a spark
Drifting from Earth to Heaven

Then I believed all that you`d said
I believed all that you`d told me
You`d do a thing no man had ever done
You`d touch the stars to please me
And then I saw your wide wings fail
Saw your feathers falter
And watched you drop like a ball of gold
Into the wide green water

Now some are born to fly high
Some are born to follow
Some are born to touch the sky
And some walk in the hollow
But as I watched your body fall
I knew that really you had won
For your grave was not the earth
But the reflection of the sun

I never wanted to fly high…

And here is Martin Simpson playing and singing. Give it a listen:

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5 thoughts on “Icarus

  1. I just wrote a comment and it simply got lost…
    I was telling you how fascinating I find Icarus and that maybe he even knew he had little chance to make it , yet he dared to fly…
    Wonderful poem, music and words, John, thank you for sharing this great post with us. 🙂

  2. Great post John. This legend of Icarus has always fascinated me. I was thinking if maybe he did not know that the chances he makes it are very low, and yet he still tried to fly. It takes a lot of courage to try the impossible…
    Similar is our travel in this life. We cannot know if we succeed or not but we must still try. Whoever does not dare to take a risk will also never win…
    Fantastic poem you found.
    “But as I watched your body fall
    I knew that really you had won
    For your grave was not the earth
    But the reflection of the sun”…
    The song is great as well.
    Beautiful post, thank you for sharing all this. 🙂

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