(Poem #609) Winged Man
The moon, a sweeping scimitar, dipped in the stormy straits, The dawn, a crimson cataract, burst through the eastern gates, The cliffs were robed in scarlet, the sands were cinnabar, Where first two men spread wings for flight and dared the hawk afar. There stands the cunning workman, the crafty past all praise, The man who chained the Minotaur, the man who built the Maze. His young son is beside him and the boy's face is a light, A light of dawn and wonder and of valor infinite. Their great vans beat the cloven air, like eagles they mount up, Motes in the wine of morning, specks in a crystal cup, And lest his wings should melt apace old Daedalus flies low, But Icarus beats up, beats up, he goes where lightnings go. He cares no more for warnings, he rushes through the sky, Braving the crags of ether, daring the gods on high, Black 'gainst the crimson sunset, golden o'er cloudy snows, With all Adventure in his heart the first winged man arose. Dropping gold, dropping gold, where the mists of morning rolled, On he kept his way undaunted, though his breaths were stabs of cold, Through the mystery of dawning that no mortal may behold. Now he shouts, now he sings in the rapture of his wings, And his great heart burns intenser with the strength of his desire, As he circles like a swallow, wheeling, flaming, gyre on gyre. Gazing straight at the sun, half his pilgrimage is done, And he staggers for a moment, hurries on, reels backward, swerves In a rain of scattered feathers as he falls in broken curves. Icarus, Icarus, though the end is piteous, Yet forever, yea, forever we shall see thee rising thus, See the first supernal glory, not the ruin hideous. You were Man, you who ran farther than our eyes can scan, Man absurd, gigantic, eager for impossible Romance, Overthrowing all Hell's legions with one warped and broken lance. On the highest steeps of Space he will have his dwelling-place, In those far, terrific regions where the cold comes down like Death Gleams the red glint of his pinions, smokes the vapor of his breath. Floating downward, very clear, still the echoes reach the ear Of a little tune he whistles and a little song he sings, Mounting, mounting still, triumphant, on his torn and broken wings!
I was delighted to discover today's poem - Icarus has always seemed to me one of the most intensely poetic figures in Greek myth, but I'd yet to read a poem that came close to doing the story justice. Today's is a beautiful exception, though - soaring, sweeping, extravagant, and with a verse form that keeps perfect pace with the content (one of the things I have against some of the other poems I've seen - if ever a subject should not be tackled in free verse, this is it). Some of the effects are truly beautiful - images like 'Motes in the wine of morning, specks in a crystal cup', the almost musical repetition of 'dropping gold, dropping gold', the unexpectedly triumphant ending. I also loved the way the form shifted from four lines to three in mid-poem, picking up the pace as Icarus breaks away to catch and sing the sun in flight. The first verse, incidentally, is very reminiscent of Noyes' 'The Highwayman'. The latter was published in 1907; 'Winged Man' was published in 'Young Adventure'  so it's reasonable to assume Benet was influenced by Noyes. Biography: Benét, Stephen Vincent 1898-43, American writer; b. Bethlehem, Pa. He is known for his vivid literary treatments of American folklore and history. Benét is famous for John Brown's Body (1928; Pulitzer), a long narrative ballad of the Civil War, several volumes of verse, including Heaven and Earth (1920) and The Burning City (1936), and masterful short stories, particularly The Devil and Daniel Webster. -- http://www.encyclopedia.com/articles/01326.html Links: Benet's book 'Young Adventure' is online in its entirety at the Poets' Corner: [broken link] http://www.geocities.com/~spanoudi/poems/benet01.html Here are some other poems that go well with today's: John McGee's sublime 'High Flight', poem #276 Hopkins' 'The Windhover', poem #35 and Whitman's 'Dalliance of the Eagles', poem #268 Tennyson's 'Eagle', for that matter, poem #15 and the entire series of poems on death in the flames: poem #34, poem #36, and poem #38. Afterthought: I really am surprised by the paucity of good poems on Icarus; I suspect that I am just unfamiliar with most of them. If you have any favourites to recommend, please do write in. -martin