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Ovid and Later Poets. Exploring the complex psychology of Ovid's myths through English and American poetry. Landscape with the Fall of Icarus Breugel, ca. 1558 Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Belgium. “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” --William Carlos Williams.

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ovid and later poets

Ovid and Later Poets

Exploring the complex psychology of Ovid's myths through English and American poetry

landscape with the fall of icarus william carlos williams
“Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” --William Carlos Williams

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings' wax

off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

musee des beaux arts w h auden
“Musee des Beaux Arts” --W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

the tree ezra pound 1921 24
“The Tree” – Ezra Pound, 1921-24

I stood still and was a tree amid the wood,
Knowing the truth of things unseen before;
Of Daphne and the laurel bow
And that god-feasting couple old
that grew elm-oak amid the wold.
'Twas not until the gods had been
Kindly entreated, and been brought within
Unto the hearth of their heart's home
That they might do this wonder thing;
Nathless I have been a tree amid the wood
And many a new thing understood
That was rank folly to my head before.

where i live in the honorable house of the laurel tree anne sexton 1960
“Where I Live in the Honorable House of the Laurel Tree” – Anne Sexton, 1960

I live in my wooden legs and Omy green green hands.Too lateto wish that I had not run from you, Apollo,blood moves still in my bark bound veins,I, who ran nymph foot to root in flight,have only this late desire to arm thetrees I lie within. The measure that I have lostsilks my pulse. Each century, the trickeriesof need pain me everywhere.Frost taps my skin and I stay glossedin honor, for you are gone in time. The airrings for you, for that astonishing riteof my breathing tent undone with your light.I only know how this untimely lust has tossedflesh at the wind forever and moved my fearstoward the intimate Rome of the myth we crossed.I am a fist of my uneaseas I spill toward the stars in the empty years.I build the air with the crown of honor; it keysmy out of time and luckless appetite.You gave me honor too soon, Apollo.There is no one left who understandshow I waithere in my wooden legs and Omy green green hands.

ovid in the third reich geoffrey hill 1968
“Ovid in the Third Reich” -- Geoffrey Hill, 1968

non peccat, quaecumque potest peccasse negare, 
 solaque famosam culpa professa facit. 
 -- Amores, III, xiv

I love my work and my children. God  

 Is distant, difficult. Things happen.   

Too near the ancient troughs of blood  

 Innocence is no earthly weapon.

I have learned one thing: not to look down

So much upon the damned. They, in their sphere,  

Harmonize strangely with the divine

Love. I, in mine, celebrate the love-choir.

daphne alicia e stallings 1999
“Daphne” – Alicia E. Stallings, 1999

Poet, Singer, Necromancer—

I cease to run.  I halt you here,

Pursuer, with an answer:

Do what you will.

What blood you've set to music I

Can change to chlorophyll,

And root myself, and with my toes

Wind to subterranean streams.

Through solid rock my strength now grows.

Such now am I, I cease to eat,

But feed on flashes from your eyes;

Light, to my new cells, is meat.

Find then, when you seize my arm

That xylem thickens in my skin

And there are splinters in my charm.

I may give in; I do not lose.

Your hot stare cannot stop my shivering,

With delight, if I so choose.

  • Poems by William Carlos Williams and W.H. Auden: http://english.emory.edu/classes/paintings&poems/auden.html
  • Poem by Geoffrey Rich: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/178125
  • Poems by Ezra Pound and Anne Sexton: www.poemhunter.com
  • Poem by A.E. Stallings: www.poemtree.com