The 15th commandment in chapter 5 of Deuteronomy states “Honour thy father and thy mother, as the lord thy God commanded thee; that thy days may be long, and that it may go well with thee, upon the land which the lord thy God giveth thee”1. This is an ordinary mandate that is repeated over and over by the elders who concern our lives. The poem ‘Icarus’ by Valentin Iremonger is a modern adaptation of the story of Icarus and Daedalus written in the form of a poem to give a modern metaphorical reference to this commandment.
Written in the 20th century, the poet exhibits an increasing interest in deepening a psychological portrait in an attempt to capture the essence of human experience more authentically. The irony of the poem is captured through the experiences of Icarus, where he disobeys his father’s cautions in order to experience the joy of flying. The poem contains one of the typical ‘stumbling blocks’ outlined in lives, i.e. the characteristics of a high flyer who avoids possible consequences before acting hastily.
This contemporary poem presents a form that became predominant in the twentieth century- free verse. The poem presents irregular lines of unequal lengths; and obsolete ideas about meter that are done away with altogether. With the lack of rhyme and rhythm the poet using this free verse creates his own form contributing to the fictitious story containing an ironic message. In this way, form used in this poem becomes as original and imaginative a part of the poetic process as imagery. The longer phrases are broken down with commas to demonstrate pauses, as the reader feels the poet contemplating his irony. This is evident from the opening lines of the poem until the conclusive phrases towards the end.
“As, even today, the airman, feeling the plane sweat Suddenly, seeing the horizon tilt up gravely, the wings shiver,” The first three lines impart this usage of detached words to present the didactic work that intends to ‘preach’ and persuade a particular moral. This moral suggests the nature of all humans who act hastily upon an idea, never to consider the possible consequences and the cautionary advices given from knowledgeable elders. The irregular punctuation is placed in order to consign emphasis that the reader ought to reflect upon. The high degree of the enjambment effect is used in the poem where phrases run on to the following lines, such as in: “Back, over the tones of the sea-waves and the slipstream, heard The gravel-voiced, stuttering trumpets of his heart.”
An organic form of poetry is used to develop a structure that contributes to reflect upon the metaphoric connotation and the form. A third person omniscient voice is used to narrate the story. The egotistical tonality can be identified to explicate an invocation in the narrator’s voice. The poet’s diction in a pastiche manner employs a general light-hearted imitation of the story of Icarus and Daedalus where the poem is treated in a respectful tone yet imitates that style of the story to convey a moral of caution. The voice is further emphasized through the usage of visual, aural and tactile imagery where visual images are referred to the physical description of Icarus flying so close to the sun in the lines “Head butting down, skidding along the light-shafts Back, over the tones of the sea-waves and the slipstream, heard…”
Such lines display images where the poet uses the setting to demonstrate the bathos of the situation. Aural imagery is presented enabling the reader to ‘hear’ what is being described. In the poem we find the phrase: “The gravel-voiced, stuttering trumpets of his heart. Sennet among the crumbling court-yards of his brain the mistake” Here, the use of the word ‘gravel-voiced’ indicates a grating, vexed voice that alarms him frequently of his mistake.
This aural imagery is expressed further through the ‘stuttering trumpets’ that personifies his quickened heart rate through a serenade of trumpets that linger to express its aural sentiment. Then follows the ‘sennet that crumbles court-yards of his brain’. Sennets usually suggest a courtly atmosphere where the elite members are welcomed by flock of loud trumpet players. Here this same connotation is used to a harsh extent where such aural expression ‘crumbles court-yards of his brain’. The fear of death is already destroying his senses.
The poet presents his view on what constitutes true fiction, that is story telling. Although the poem proceeds with a pastiche irony and humor, there is a serious desire here to correct misguided human nature through alarming motifs and teachings. In this context of the poem’s intention, the use of the words ‘high-flier’, ‘star-chaser’, ‘big -time-going’, ‘chancer’, is particularly loaded. It is used for ironic effect to indicate the lives of rich play boys who live under reckless extravagance. The poet’s usage of colloquial language also makes the intentions of the theme evident.
Phrases such as “As, even today, the airman, feeling the plane sweat” Expose the comparison of the plane’s sweat to human’s anxiety towards death. This being further emphasized through the phrase “Suddenly, seeing the horizon tilt up gravely, the wings shiver,” defining a literal grave compared to that of Icarus which is the sea. This comparison is made to supplement the writing with a sense of humor through pastiche tonality as explained earlier. The dramatic and colloquial uses of languages in phrases such as “And, while the flat sea, approaching, buckled into Oh! avenues” engraves a dramatic awe of the aural imagery of sennets. Whereas avenues being compared to the flat sea in the poem. Such comparison can be made to bring out the humor in simple language to demonstrate a negative connotation to the over-achievers who avoid taking precautionary alarms before reaching for their own graves.
The tale of Icarus and Daedalus tells the story of the over-achiever Icarus expressed in this poem. The poem however, emphasizes on a crucial part of the story where Daedalus warns his son of the dangers of flying too low or too high. “Remember,” said Daedalus, “never to fly very low or very high, for the fogs about the earth would weigh you down, but the blaze of the sun will surely melt your feathers apart if you go too near.”such were the words of precaution that Icarus avoids.
“For Icarus, these cautions went in at one ear and out by the other. Who could remember to be careful when he was to fly for the first time? Are birds careful? Not they! And not an idea remained in the boy’s head but the one joy of escape.”Hence, the poem presents the boy’s ‘one joy of escape’ through a pastiche tone where he mocks the tale in negative tones in order to portray an important message. A message that we know as one of the commandments in the Christian faith.
In Ephesians 6: 1-3 it talks about the importance of children obeying their parents as “it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on earth.”4 Such powerful messages do contain simple messages that are to be taught as a moral for living. The simple, figurative theory may not seem particularly appealing as a theme for such kinds of poetry, yet the ironic stance adopted by the poet in his presentation makes the piece amusing, interesting and easy to relate to.