Pieter Bruegel, a low level obsession continues

I’ve long used Bruegel in my work and been fascinated by the uses others make of his imagery. Tarkovsky as a way to search for a memory of humanity (Solaris, 1972), Von Trier as a pessimistic nod to Tarkovsky (Melancholia, 2011) and Roeg more simply to connect Rip Torn to Our David while their characters have yet to meet (The Man Who Fell to Earth, 1976). I’ve used Bruegel’s The Peasant Wedding (1567) to stand for the possibility of collective memory or a yearning for human contact in shows such as Coco (2004) and They Are the We of Me (2005), and I’m now half-inching Tarkovsky’s examination of The Hunters in the Snow (1565) for Vicki and Alex, Like the Clouds (2014). But can anything beat Auden or Carlos Williams on this subject?

The Peasant Wedding
The Peasant Wedding
The Hunters in the Snow
The Hunters in the Snow
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
Detail from In Spain there was Guernica, They Are the We of Me, GoMA, 2005
Detail from In Spain there was Guernica, They Are the We of Me, GoMA, 2005
After the Wedding, Coco, 2004
After the Wedding, Coco, 2004

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.

Copyright © 1976 by Edward Mendelson, William Meredith and Monroe K. Spears, 
Executors of the Estate of W. H. Auden.

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


the edge of the sea


with itself

sweating in the sun

that melted

the wings’ wax


off the coast

there was

a splash quite unnoticed

this was

Icarus drowning

From Collected Poems: 1939-1962, Volume II by William Carlos Williams, published by New Directions Publishing Corp.