The idiom "wings of fortune" can be found in writing. For example, near the end of the Grateful Dead song Terrapin Station, it says:

The sullen wings of fortune beat like rain

Many older books contain the expression, too. For example:

The road was so smooth, the day so fine .. it would have needed but a little imagination on his part to believe himself carried away on the wings of Fortune.
(published in The Universal Review, 1888)

and, from that same time period:

The wings of fortune do not pass every day
(published in The Dublin University Magazine, Vol. 94, 1879)

Does anyone know what the expression "wings of fortune" means? Is the meaning commonly known, where it could be used in day-to-day conversation?

closed as off-topic by FumbleFingers, Chenmunka, Em1, ColleenV, user3169 Sep 17 '14 at 18:17

  • This question does not appear to be about learning the English language within the scope defined in the help center.
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  • 1
    Could you perhaps post a link to the poem? – Lewis Heslop Sep 17 '14 at 13:02
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about interpreting poetic usages. That's Literary Criticism, not learning English as such. – FumbleFingers Sep 17 '14 at 13:24
  • @FumbleFingers I mentioned that in the answer, hopefully a mod will move it over to ELU – Lewis Heslop Sep 17 '14 at 13:32
  • @Lewis: If it's moved to ELU I'll closevote there for the same reason. Lit Crit is Off Topic on both sites, and there's nothing else to this question. It's particularly inappropriate in this specific case, since in the vast majority of cases, metaphoric wings of fortune are uplifting, positive. So it's something of a counter-intuitive allusion here, where the allusion is very specifically to fortune/chance as a neutral/ambivalent factor. – FumbleFingers Sep 17 '14 at 13:41
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    @fu I don't think explaining a metaphor is literary criticism, nor do I think that this would be off topic in English Language Usage. He has asked for an explanation of a specific expression, he's certainly not asking us to criticise the poet's use of it. I'll edit the original question to feature the full quote, and then I think the ELU move will be suitable – Lewis Heslop Sep 17 '14 at 13:43

Assuming you are referencing this:

In this poem, the line;

The sullen wings of fortune beat like rain

can be paraphrased as;

Bad fortune relentlessly barrages

In your question you ask for a description of:

Wings of fortune

The only explanation I can give of this is that it is a metaphor rather than an idiom. It is there to describe how the fortune (good or bad, in this case bad) occurs. The attempted description is that it is happening in short repetitive bursts, hence "beat". Hope this helps.

Edit: If this is the poem you're referencing, I really think that your question goes above what is expected in ELL and probably should be moved to ELU.

  • As for the ELL/ELU demarcation, I think the question is fine either place. If the O.P. is not fluent in English and would prefer asking a question like this in an environment more friendly to non-native speakers, use ELL. If the O.P. is ready to play hardball among the "serious linguists and etymologists," ask on ELU. – J.R. Sep 17 '14 at 15:54

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