Waiting for Icarus essay

The poem Waiting for Icarus by Muriel Rukeyser speaks of a girl’s lost love and affection over a beloved who unbeknownst to her may have already gone to a distant place and has no intention of returning to her at all. In this poem, the girl laments at her lost and wasted time in waiting for loved one. The two losses experienced by the girl in this poem appear to be that of love and time. As can be gleaned from the opening line of the poem “He said he would be back and we’d drink wine together,” a promised has been given that the girl’s beloved would come back.

In the third last line where the girl said, “I have been waiting all day, or perhaps longer,” it is evident that the promise has been broken. Thus, while it can be seen that the stanza suggests hope and expectation, nevertheless, the poem, particularly in the second stanza, ended with the girl’s pronouncement that indeed, she has been deceived by her lover into believing that he would come back for her. Icarus in the poem took the form of a runaway lover. This metaphor is depicted effectively by the author by employing the words sky, wax, and inventors throughout the poem.

As can be noted, Icarus in the Greek mythology, the son of the inventor Daedalus, is popularly known for his attempt to escape by flying, which unfortunately, tragically resulted in his death. Interestingly, an almost similar pattern was used by Rukeyser in describing the girl’s lover in the poem as one who engaged with inventions. The mention of the lover’s dreams of “going into the world and the sky” symbolizes Icarus’ dreams of fleeing and flying nearer into the sun despite his father’s warnings. Both the lover in the poem and Icarus in the mythology also failed to come back after the endeavor.

The author seems to suggest that dreamers and inventors are not to be trusted for they have the inclination to break their promises. In the second stanza, the girl suddenly awakens with the realization that her hopes and expectations for the return of her beloved will never happen. She then engages into a detailed account of her experiences while she was waiting for his return. The gulls and the waves as well as the islands on the sea are all witnesses to her long and arduous endeavor of patiently waiting.

The girl also complains of the mockery and criticisms which she had to endure from her friends and her mother who never failed to remind her that all her efforts are futile as her lover only wanted to get away from her. Her mother’s declaration that “Inventors are like poets, a trashy lot” and that “Women who love such are the worst of all” struck like needles in her battered heart as she finally realizes that indeed, all her efforts had been wasted and her lover will never return.

The irony of it all is that in the last two lines of the poem, the girl indicated her yearning to “try the wings” herself, possibly in the hopes that maybe, getting away from it all, like what her beloved did to her, will do her more good than what she is currently experiencing. In the contemporary setting, the best solution to one’s problem is to fight and brave all the odds. It is however, also a very enticing alternative to just walk away and leave everything when the situation seems too hard to handle. This is what the author of the poem seems to suggest.

In Waiting for Icarus, Rukeyser focused more on the anguish of the person left behind. In this poem, that person takes the form of a girl waiting for the return of her beloved. In other works pertaining to Icarus’ myth, different themes have been employed. For instance, in Pieter Bruegel’s painting entitled Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, the painter portrayed the death of Icarus as a mere splash in the sea (Rodgers). This is quite the worst tragedy that can possibly befall upon any poet or artist for that matter, to approach death not being able to leave an imprint of his artistic accomplishments.

Henri Matisse’s painting on Icarus highlight’s the fall of itself with Icarus’ arms flailing about and fighting his fall. This painting, in a similar manner to that of Bruegel’s, suggests that all attempts at greatness must inevitably come to an end, albeit tragically for some. Interpreting Rukeyser’s poem from the viewpoint of a deconstructionist, it is evident that the girl’s beloved, apart from coming to terms with his own ambitions, is at the same time, struggling to please his father.

This dilemma is not an uncommon scenario even in the contemporary times where the men are expected to meet their parents’ especially their father’s expectations. There is still, unfortunately a prevailing inclination towards machismo and egoism among the male population and this is emphasized in the poem in the lines “He said he would never again cringe before his father” and “He said that he was going to invent full-time” which seems to suggest that the only way he could level with his father is to invent full-time. Muriel Rukeyser’s commitment to social justice and feminism can also be traced in the poem.

In Waiting for Icarus, she expressed her sympathy to women’s plight particularly those who find themselves victims of oppression from their society as well as those people closest to them. Rukeyser clearly wants to empower these women by providing them with the same options made available to men. In the last lines of the poem, the girl is consumed by her desire to fly so much so that she believed her circumstance will improve if she could also try those wings which her lover has told her about. This suggests the continuing struggle of women in our present time for equal benefits and rights afforded to the male population.

Most feminists would agree that the only way to uplift the morals and self-esteem of women is to provide them with the same privileges which have been enjoyed by the males ever since.


Rukeyser, Muriel. Waiting for Icarus. Retrieved July 18, 2008 from http://www. randomhouse. com/boldtype/1101/voice/rukeyser. html Rodgers, Audrey T. On “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. ” Modern American Poetry. Retrieved July 18, 2008 from http://www. english. uiuc. edu/maps/poets/s_z/williams/icarus. htm Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980). Retrieved July 18, 2008 from http://www. arlindo-correia. com/200305. html