Edward Field’s “Icarus,” written in 1963, is based on the theological myth of Icarus and Daedalus but is set in a modern world environment. The reader can confer that the poem is related to the myth of Icarus in the first line, “Only the feathers floating around the hat” (1). The floating feathers belong to Icarus, and are a representation of Icarus’s drowning. Details like these are necessary in the poem to help the reader understand what Field is truly saying. He uses the myth of Icarus to reveal how the main character adapts from his tragic misfortunes in his mythical life to living a mediocre life like other humans. Through irony, setting, and diction, Field illustrates the contemporary life of Icarus as living in the role of an everyday person who lives socially neglected by mankind.
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Setting plays a major role in the imagery of this poem. The setting sets the stage for Field as he exposes Icarus in complete different worlds as the first stanza mainly being described as his tragic death and the third stanza depicting his new life in the new world. In the first stanza, the setting explains the myth of Icarus through a crime scene. “So the report filed and forgotten in the archives read simply, “Drowned” (6-7). This confers how others simply forgot about the young Icarus. In the third stanza, the setting changes to a mediocre lifestyle that “Mr. Hicks” now lives as the hero who fell “To the middling stature of the merely talented” (20). The setting in these lines represents the carelessness that Icarus’s surrounding people had for him, as well as how “Mr. Hicks” has to adapt to his modern nearby people.
Field also clearly utilizes diction in his poem to portray to the reader that the poem is a contemporary adaption of the Icarus myth. By using words like “anything” and “trying” in his poem, Field gives the sense that the poem is in recent time because these words were not commonly used by the Greek in mythological times. Although he bases his poem from the Icarus myth, Field’s diction breaks away from the classical language of the Greek myths as he uses a more contemporary use of words instead of that of power and heroism. For example, when describing Mr. Hick’s attitude for life as, “he wishes he had drowned.” (30) This attitude clearly is contrary to that of a heroic God, who might feel glorious and justified by life. Furthermore, Field uses adjectives like “those” and “that” instead of older pronouns such as “thy” and thee.” The wording of this poem greatly changes the era for which the reader finds the poem to be written in. Most importantly, the wording deeply supports the transformation of Field’s interpretation of the Icarus myth to that of the modern day Icarus as he too lives in a life without powers or heroism. This lack of power and heroism from the society of Icarus can also be an example of today’s society. Tragedy is still found around the world from the same selfishness and carelessness as those who ignored Icarus many centuries ago. While Field alters the era of which Icarus lives, he also alters the same tribulations society had, and still has, for its fellow people to prove the never-ending egotism for which life has always been lived through.
Edward Field’s poem intermingles with the old myth of Icarus as well as the contemporary life of modern day to portray how similarly flawed each civilization treats itself. Both societies are apathetical toward other people’s struggles as they care little to help. Tragedy and suffering is caused do to the selfishness harbored among mankind as a whole. Many lives can be saved by people who simply care. Through the Icarus myth, Field represents the irony of a god-like hero, the diverse settings of two different worlds, and diction that is separated by many eras in his own poem to show how the life and world of a hero falls to the life of a man in an everyday world with common, self-centered habitants.
Field, Edward. “Icarus.” Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts. 9th ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2009. 999-1000.
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