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Compare and Contrast of the Two Poems: “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to

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“To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph” by Anne Sexton and “Waiting for Icarus” by Muriel Rukeyser are two of many poems that allude to the myth of Daedalus and Icarus. In her poem, Sexton looks at the myth from a different angle than most people. Instead of writing that Icarus was naughty and arrogant, Sexton praises him constantly, implying that he was amazing for taking so many risks and being adventurous and dismisses his death as unimportant. Some people think that Sexton alluded to a poem called “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing” by William Butler Yeats along with the Icarus myth to console a friend about her actions. Rukeyser’s poem alludes to the Icarus myth to tell the story of a girl whose boyfriend, who might be Icarus, has left her and how she is lamenting about her lost love and time and also the way she is discouraged by close ones. By comparing and contrasting the two poems, it is possible to deduce that some similarities and differences lie in the point of view, mood and theme.


The point of view in the two poems greatly contrasts each other with the authors having used them for specific reasons. Sexton wrote the poem in a third-person point of view and it is about how Icarus’s flight was amazing and how she admired it. Sexton may have used third-person as it is far more reliable than a first-person perspective. The reader may not have been convinced that Icarus was great if Sexton used first-person since Icarus would probably have said that his flight was good. Even though the reader knows that the poem is fictional, there would be still less effect. Third-person would be more convincing as it would seem more like a review from a neutral, unbiased person. For example, the reader would be more likely to agree with a third person narrator commenting “Admire his wings!” instead of Icarus commenting “Admire my wings!” On the other hand, Rukeyser’s poem uses a first-person point of view, again with good reason. Since Rukeyser’s poem is about a girl moaning and lamenting how her boyfriend has either dumped her or is dead, first-person makes it easier for the author to express her sad feelings. Although if the author used words such as “He said he would be back and they’d drink wine together” and “She remembered they said he only wanted to get away from her” may have similar meanings, using “we”, “I” and “me”, respectively, instead makes the reader feels more sympathy for her. In the two poems, the authors use different, contrasting point of views to help fully make the reader feel the way they intended them too.


Besides the point of view, the moods in the two poems are generally different as well while they do share one minor similarity. The similarity in the two poems is that although the mood has a general tone, it changes a bit from the first stanza to the last. In Sexton’s poem, the mood is generally lighthearted and happy. At the start, the mood is sort of prideful, as Sexton writes that Icarus has a “first flawless moment over the lawn” and “Admire his wings!” Sexton also insults the trees and the ground for being as “awkward as camels.” After that, the poem is generally relaxed through the use of some exclamation marks and words such as “casually” and “wondrously.” However, at the very end of the poem, there seems to be some feeling of disapproval or sarcasm as Sexton writes “as his sensible daddy goes straight into town,” which sarcastically implies that Daedalus had an uneventful flight and making it to safety wasn’t worth it. Rukeyser’s poem, in contrast, has a general mood of sadness. However, there are also very slight changes in the type of sadness throughout the poem. At the start, there is sadness because the girl is lamenting about how her boyfriend has dumped her and run away after promising that he will come back for her. Words such as “Wait for me” and “Just don’t cry” enforce the sadness as readers of the myth know that he will not come back and that the promise will be broken. After that, the sadness changes to a discouraged type of sadness as the narrator’s friends discourage her, “laughing” at her and say that her boyfriend “only wanted to get away” from her. Her mother also gives her zero support, saying that inventors are “a trashy lot” and that she is “worst” for loving him. During the end, the mood becomes helpless as the girl wants “to try those wings” and escape from her current situation since that she can do nothing. In summary, the moods in the two poems are generally different as one is happy, light and relaxed while the other is dark and sad, although they both change slightly from the start to the end.


Finally, the themes in the two poems are different from each other, although Rukeyser’s poem may have a deeper, better developed theme. In Sexton’s poem, there is a core message, which is that it is better to take risks and be adventurous, like Icarus, than to be safe but not take any risks, like Daedalus. The theme she could be exploring is that risk-taking is accepted and admirable and is better than living a long life in vain without any risk-taking, which lessens the chances of being able to do a remarkable and well-remembered achievement. In her poem, Sexton constantly praises Icarus and seems to think that his flight was the best, supporting him for being adventurous and writes that “Who cares that he fell back to the sea?” That might imply that Sexton thought that Icarus’s death was unimportant, as he has managed to be one of the first people to fly and has “wondrously” tunneled “into that hot eye,” or the sun, which is not something everybody gets to try. On the other hand, instead of having just one core theme, Rukeyser’s poem may have several themes. For example, one of the themes could be that how many people try hard to meet their parents’ expectations. Evidence is the line, “He said that he would never again cringe before his father,” which might mean that the father of the girl’s boyfriend was a very great man and that the boyfriend always felt embarrassed in front of him. Another theme is that in the second stanza, the way the girl is treated can reflect the social phenomenon of the author’s time – women were discouraged by close ones. Other people are “laughing” at the girl and her mother scolds her, saying that she is “worst” for loving “such.” Also, a possible theme is that many parents often discourage their children from being dreamers, such as musicians, artists, inventors or poets as they claim that it is unstable; many dreamers often live in poverty and only some make it. In the poem, the girl’s mother says a similar thing, stating that “Inventors are like poets, a trashy lot” and that “Those who try out inventions are worse.” Finally, at the last stanza, the girl expresses her desire to “try those wings myself,” or leave her current situation. That might imply that it is sometimes best to walk away when situations seem too hard to handle. Overall, the poems might allude to the same myth, but the two poems have different themes which convey different messages to the reader.


The two poems have some similarities but large amounts of contrast in many different ways, which include point of view, mood and theme. The two poems use completely different point of views while the moods are the complete opposite of each other although they both have graduate, slight modifications. The themes are also totally different and Rukeyser’s poem has more than Sexton’s. One of the things that must be appreciated is that while both poems allude to the Icarus myth, the authors have successfully made their poems mean many different things through several ways and techniques. In conclusion, the contrast between these two poems illustrate something amazing and important about poems – poems may be based on or allude to the same thing, but through many different methods and tricks, an author can make them mean completely unalike, contrasting things.





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