To A Friend Whose Work Has Come To Triumph

Consider Icarus, pasting those sticky wintgs on,
testing that strange little tug at his shoulder blade,
and think of that first flawless moment over the lawn
of the labyrinth. Think of the difference it made!
There below are the trees, as awkward as camels;
and here are the shocked starlings pumping past
and think of innocent Icarus who is doing quite well:
larger than a sail, over the fog and the blast
of the plushy ocean, he goes. Admire his wings!
Feel the fire at his neck and see how casually
he glances up and is caught, wondrously tunneling
into that hot eye. Who cares that feel back to the sea?
See him acclaiming the sun and come plunging down
while his sensible daddy goes straight into town.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Anne Sexton's poem To A Friend Whose Work Has Come To Triumph


  1. F says:

    It’s a very nice poem but I don’t get why the name was chosen.

  2. asl Buthayna says:

    Ann is defying the traditional view that Icarus is a hero! Heroes die? According to Ovid he is a teeanger who fails in the end.

  3. Annabella-Hazel says:

    I thought that the poem was written in a friendly way towards Icarus as an advice.

  4. Geoff Loveman says:

    Seems to me that the poem is a warning to a friend, that a moment of triumph may ulimately end in success or failure, so take care! More importantly, Sexton obviously must have known the poem by William Butler Yeats – “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come To Nothing” and so it is more likely that Yeats’ poem may have been addressed to a real person and Sexton’s may not.

  5. Katie says:

    But isn’t the poem also about how no one cares about him? See, “Who cares that he fell back to the sea?” Sounds slightly verbally ironic if you ask me. That might not be the theme, but it’s true, right? Or why not, if you don’t think so?

  6. d says:

    i think that anne sexton wrote this poem for a friend of hers. she mentions, ‘consider icarus’. i suppose she is telling her friend to take icarus as an example, as he might have FAILED, but in a way, he still achieved something.

  7. alice says:

    I didn’t interperet the title to be taken in a “Icarus triumphed because of his father’s work” way. I understood it more in a “his father’s work triumphed because Icarus did” way. A slight difference, but more meaningful, I think. Of course, poetry is subjective…

  8. Elizabeth says:

    One of the other themes in the poem is that triumph requires sacrifice. Nothing comes easily. Often the sacrifice is that the one who triumphs is seen as unusual or strange–witness the ‘shocked starlings’ who look at Icarus as a thing that is in the wrong place and the ‘sensible daddy’ who will, undoubtedly be congratulated for being so sensible. One of the reasons for success, Sexton says, is that one is willing to be exceptional. By the way, your site misquotes line 12. It should end with “Who cares that he fell back to the sea?” The poem is a sonnet, and scansion is important to the form of the poem.

  9. Jake says:

    The title of this poem is not one that is meant to be taken literally. Triumph? Icarus did not triumph. He did nothing to be triumphant, his father gave him the wings. To recieve this from her is an insult. Saying that your “triumph” was short-lived and ignorable. Sure he gave it his best effort….to bad it wasn’t good enough. This also shows how just because he is a youth it’s different. If he was an adult he would have been considered stupid for not heeding the warning.

  10. Alicia says:

    I definetly agree. It says how it is more important to take the risk and fail than to follow the “safe” path, as Daedalus did. Icarus lived a shorter, yet more complete life, rather than living long, boring.

  11. leigh says:

    It is absolutely about seizing the day. And more than that, it is defiantly against the traditional “moral” of the story: that it is better to walk the safe middle line than to stray from it, where danger might lie. At the time, any cultural depiction of a woman “straying” always ended with tragedy (or with her ultimately returning to the “right” path – to be simply somebody’s wife and somebody’s mother. ) Because of her emotional troubles, Anne was constantly looking inward and had an intense concept of self, which, until recently, was reserved primarily for men. Women who had strong senses of self, and who made decisions based on them, were thought “selfish” “irresponsible” “bad mothers” and “bad wives.” Anne is a voice to counter the fear and suspicion that so often accompany’s a woman’s success. And for that, I thank her.

  12. ves says:

    the poem is about life in a sense. Icarus represents youth, as he is willing to take risks and is inexperienced, flying towards the sun, while his father demonstrates the traits od old age and wisdom as he does not fly towards the sun and simply continues onwards. Finally the sun symbolizes the dangers in life and how taking risks can become part of reaching your goals.

  13. Jennifer says:

    I can not believe that not on has commented on this poem. Anyway, this poem is signifying the carpe deim theme. “Seize the Day” Basically, it is saying, so what if he died in the end, he still reached his goals. He would have died anyway, in saddness if he had not tried to escape the laberyninth. He died knowing that he had accomplished his main goal in life as well a reaching others that were higher, such as being able to see the sun. If anyone has any other views, please post them. I would be happy to see what someone else thinks about it.

    • Taran says:

      kinda late but in my eyes this poem is signifying how no matter what Icarus did nothing mattered. When Icarus died no one cared and just continued on with his regular life. His actions were insignificant. On the other hand, if he stayed in the labyrinth he would eventually die there and still, no one would care.

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