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Musée des Beaux Arts

Musée des Beaux Arts


by W.H. Auden

Who the Heck is Icarus?

Symbol Analysis

Icarus is referenced throughout this poem, and since he does have a pretty amazing backstory, we thought we'd tell you a bit more about him. This guy goes all the way back to Greek myths…and believe us, those Greeks went through some pretty wild stuff.

Icarus was a big dreamer. He wasn't satisfied with just escaping from a horrible labyrinth in which he and his father were being held captive. Oh, no. He wanted to escape in style. Icarus actually had some help, though – his father, Daedalus, was a pretty talented craftsman. He fashioned two pairs of wax wings so that he and his son could fly away from their place of captivity.

They take off. Everything's going fine. In fact, Icarus is enjoying flying so much that he decides he's going to get higher and higher and closer and closer to the sun. After all, that's what flying is all about, right?

Well, not really. Especially not when you happen to be wearing wings of wax. The closer Icarus gets to the sun, the melt-ier his wax wings become. Pretty soon, they aren't even wax wings anymore. They're just big, melty blobs attached to Icarus's back. And without wings, Icarus starts to fall.

….and that's where our poem picks up. Icarus is plunging towards the water. And by the end of the poem, he's in the water. Not exactly a happy ending, huh?

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