From the poem inspired by this painting came the name of Ken Dornstein's book, which I finally finished last night. His brother, David, really seemed unconsciously to know how he was going to die. Ken doesn't state this as fact, but if you read the story the notion's difficult to ignore.
In some spiritual traditions, it seems stranger not to know the how, why and when of our death. If we live in a state of connection to our spirit, we will just "know." This is not a reality in my personal awareness, but I do feel pretty certain I will live to a ripe old age, like it or not.
(Pieter Brueghel, The Fall of Icarus, c. 1558)
Musée des Beaux Arts
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
-W.H. Auden, 1938