HUMANITIES - LITERATURE
The Story of
Daedalus and
Icarus

from The Metamorphoses, Book 8
Translated by Rolphe Humphries

  Homesick for homeland, Daedalus hated Crete
  And his long exile there, but the sea held him.
  "Though Minos blocks escape by land or water,"
  Daedalus said, "surely the sky is open,
5 And that's the way we'll go. Minos' dominion
  Does not include the air." He turned his thinking
  Toward unknown arts, changing the laws of nature.
  He laid out feathers in order, first the smallest,
  A little larger next to it, and so continued,
10 The way that panpipes rise in gradual sequence.
  He fastened them with twine and wax, at middle,
  At bottom, so, and bent them, gently curving,
  So that they looked like wings of birds, most surely.
  And Icarus, his son, stood by and watched him,
15 Not knowing he was dealing with his downfall,
  Stood by and watched and raised his shiny face
  To let a feather, light as down, fall on it,
  Or stuck his thumb in the yellow wax,
  Fooling around, the way a boy will, always,
20 Whenever a father tries to get some work done.
  Still, it was done at last, and the father hovered,
  Poised, in the moving air, and taught his son:
  "I warn you, Icarus, fly a middle course:
  Don't go too low, or water will weigh the wings down;
25 Don't go too high, or the sun's fire will burn them.
  Keep to the middle way. And one more thing,
  No fancy steering by star or constellation,
  Follow my lead!" That was the flying lesson.
  And now to fit the wings to the boy's shoulders.
30 Between the work and warning the father found
  His cheeks were wet with tears, and his hands trembled.
  He kissed his son (Good-bye, if he had known it),
  Rose on his wings, flew on ahead, as fearful
  As any bird launching the little nestlings
35 Out of high nest into thin air. Keep on,
  Keep on, he signals, follow me! He guides him
  In flight--O fatal art!-- and the wings move
  And the father looks back to see the son's wings moving.
  Far off, far down, some fisherman is watching
40 As the rod dips and trembles over the water,
  Some shepherd rests his weight upon his crook,,
  Some plowman on the handles of the plowshare,
  And all look up, in absolute amazement,
  At those airborne above. They must be gods!
45 They were over Samos, Juno's sacred island,
  Delos and Paros toward the left, Lebinthus
  Visible to the right, and another island,
  Calymne, rich in honey. And the boy
  Thought This is wonderful! And left his father,
50 Soared higher, higher, drawn to the vast heaven,
  Nearer the sun, and the wax that held the wings
   Melted in that fierce heat, and the bare arms
   Beat up and down in air, and lacking oarage
   Took hold of nothing. Father! he cried, and Father!
55 Until the blue sea hushed him, the dark water
  Men call the Icarian now. And Daedalus,
  Father no more, called "Icarus, where are you!
  Where are you Icarus? Tell me where to find you!"
  And saw the wings on the waves and cursed his talents,
60 Buried the body in a tomb, and the land
  Was named for Icarus.

Story of Daedalus and Icarus, World Masterpieces. Prentice Hall: Englewood Cliffs NJ, © 1991.


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HUMANITIES - LITERATURE


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