Note: 'High Flight' has
its own section.
Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly
in the air. Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of
the unknown and the unknowable. Poetry is a phantom script telling how
rainbows are made and why they go away.
— Carl Sandburg, 'Poetry Considered.'
And now 'tis man who dares assault the sky …
And as we come to claim our promised place,
Aim only to repay the good you gave,
And warm with human love the chill of space.
— Prof. Thomas G. Bergin, Yale University, 'Space
Prober.' This was the first poem to be launched into orbit about the
Earth. It was inscribed on the instrument panel of a satellite called
Traac launched from Cape Kennedy on November 15, 1961.
The True and Beautiful—The Sky
Sometimes gentle, sometimes capricious, sometimes awful,
never the same for two months together; almost human in its passions,
almost spiritual in its tenderness, almost Divine in its infinity.
The Eagle and the Hawk
I am the eagle, I live in high country,
In rocky cathedrals that reach to the sky,
I am the hawk and there's blood on my feathers,
But time is still turning, they soon will be dry,
And all those who see me, and all who believe in me,
Share in the freedom I feel when I fly!
Come dance with the west wind,
And touch all the mountain tops,
Sail o'er the canyons, and up to the stars,
And reach for the heavens, and hope for the future,
And all that we can be, not what we are.
— John Denver
Song for John
On a windy day let's go flying
There may be no trees to rest on
There may be no clouds to ride
But we'll have our wings and the wind will be with us
That's enough for me, that's enough for me.
— Yoko Ono
I searched along the changing edge
Where, sky-pierced now the cloud had broken.
I saw no bird, no blade of wing,
No song was spoken.
I stood, my eyes turned upward still
And drank the air and breathed the light.
Then, like a hawk upon the wind,
I climbed the sky, I made the flight.
— Elizabeth J. Buchtenkirk
Alone, yet never lonely,
Serene, beyond mischance,
The world was his, his only,
When Lindbergh flew to France.
— Aline Michaelis
Cocooned in Time, at this inhuman height,
The packaged food tastes neutrally of clay.
We never seem to catch the running day
But travel on in everlasting night …
— John Betjeman
Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It's too high!
COME TO THE EDGE!
And they came,
and he pushed,
and they flew.
— Christopher Logue
Because I Fly
Because I fly
I laugh more than other men
I look up an see more than they,
I know how the clouds feel,
What it's like to have the blue in my lap,
to look down on birds,
to feel freedom in a thing called the stick…
who but I can slice between God's billowed legs,
and feel then laugh and crash with His step
Who else has seen the unclimbed peaks?
The rainbow's secret?
The real reason birds sing?
Because I Fly,
I envy no man on earth.
— Grover C. Norwood
Impressions of a Pilot
Flight is freedom in its purest form,
To dance with the clouds which follow a storm;
To roll and glide, to wheel and spin,
To feel the joy that swells within;
To leave the earth with its troubles and fly,
And know the warmth of a clear spring sky;
Then back to earth at the end of a day,
Released from the tensions which melted away.
Should my end come while I am in flight,
Whether brightest day or darkest night;
Spare me your pity and shrug off the pain,
Secure in the knowledge that I'd do it again;
For each of us is created to die,
And within me I know,
I was born to fly.
— Gary Claud Stokor
I am the copilot. I sit on the right.
It's up to me to be quick and bright;
I never talk back for I have regrets,
But I have to remember what the Captain forgets.
I make out the Flight Plan and study the weather,
Pull up the gear, stand by to feather;
Make out the mail forms and do the reporting,
And fly the old crate while the Captain is courting.
I take the readings, adjust the power,
Put on the heaters when we're in a shower;
Tell him where we are on the darkest night,
And do all the bookwork without any light.
I call for my Captain and buy him cokes;
I always laugh at his corny jokes,
And once in awhile when his landings are rusty
I always come through with, "By gosh it's gusty!"
All in all I'm a general stooge,
As I sit on the right of the man I call "Scrooge";
I guess you think that is past understanding,
But maybe some day he will give me a landing.
— Keith Murray
An Airman Grace
Lord of thunderhead and sky
Who place in man the will to fly
Who taught his hand speed, skill and grace
To soar beyond man's dwelling place
You shared with him the Eagle's view
The right to soar, as Eagles do
The right to call the clouds his home
And grateful, through your heavens roam
May all assembled here tonight
And all who love the thrill of flight
Recall with twofold gratitude
Your gift of Wings, Your gift of Food.
— Father John MacGillivary, Royal Canadian Air Force
An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
— William Butler Yeats, 1919
This is a damned unnatural sort of war;
The pilot sits among the clouds, quite sure
About the values he is fighting for;
He cannot hear beyond his veil of sound,
He cannot see the people on the ground;
he only knows that on the sloping map
Of sea-fringed town and country people creep
Like ants — and who cares if ants laugh or weep?
— R. N. Currey
Death is a Matter of Mathematics
Death is a matter of mathematics.
It screeches down at you from dirty white nothingness
And your life is a question of velocity and altitude,
With allowances for wind and the quick, relentless pull
Or else it lies concealed
In that fleecy, peaceful puff of cloud ahead.
A streamlined, muttering vulture, waiting
To swoop upon you with a rush of steel.
And then your chances vary as the curves
Of your parabolas, your banks, your dives,
The scientific soundness of your choice
Of what to push or pull, and how, and when.
— Barry Conrad Amiel
Courage is the price that Life exacts for granting peace.
The soul that knows it not Knows no release from little things:
Knows not the livid loneliness of fear,
Nor mountain heights where bitter joy can hear
The sound of wings.
How can life grant us boon of living, compensate
For dull gray ugliness and pregnant hate
Unless we dare The soul's dominion?
Each time we make a choice, we pay
With courage to behold the restless day,
And count it fair.
— Amelia Earhart
Snap back the canopy,
Pull out the oxygen tube,
Flick the harness pin
And slap out into the air,
Clear of the machine.
You knew that you must float
From the sun above the clouds
To the gloom beneath, from a world
Of rarefied splendour to one
Of cheapened dirt, close-knit
In its effort to encompass man
— David Bourne
One More Roll
We toast our hearty comrades who have fallen from the skies, and were
gently caught by God's own hand to be with him on High.
To dwell among the soaring clouds they've known so well before. From
victory roll to tail chase, at heaven's very door.
As we fly among them there, we're sure to head their plea. To take care
my friend, watch your six, and do one more roll for me.
— Commander Jerry Coffee, Hanoi, 1968.
Breathe deep, mine eyes, the frosty saga of eternal suns
From unseen depths and dreams undreamt,
I sing the gleaming cantos of unvanquished space
By thought I embrace the universal
With wings of mind I sail the infinitude
Glory! 'tis the stars which beckon man's spirit and set our souls adrift!
— Hart Crane, 1930
The midnight plane with its flying lights
looks like an unloosed star
wandering west through blue-black night
to where the mountains are,
a star that's come so close to earth
to tell each quiet farm and little town,
'Put out your lights, children of earth. Sleep warm.'
— Frances Frost, a children's lullaby, printed in
World Journal Tribune.
I sweep the skies with fire and steel
My highway is the cloud
I swoop, I soar, aloft I wheel
My engine laughing loud
I fight with gleaming blades the wind
That dares dispute my path
I leave the howling storm behind
I ride upon it's wrath.
I laugh to see your tiny world
Your toys of ships, your cars
I rove an endless road unfurled
Where the mile stones are the stars
And far below, men wait and peer
For what my coming brings
I fill their quaking hearts with fear
For death…is in my wings.
— Gordon Boshell, written after watching Battle of
Britain dogfights from the streets of London.
Whenever I see them ride on high
Gleaming and proud in the morning sky
Or lying awake in bed at night
I hear them pass on their outward flight
I feel the mass of metal and guns
Delicate instruments, deadweight tons
Awkward, slow, bomb racks full
Straining away from downward pull
Straining away from home and base
And try to see the pilot's face
I imagine a boy who's just left school
On whose quick-learned skill and courage cool
Depend the lives of the men in his crew
And success of the job they have to do.
And something happens to me inside
That is deeper than grief, greater than pride
And though there is nothing I can say
I always look up as they go their way
And care and pray for every one,
And steel my heart to say,
"Thy will be done."
— Sarah Churchill, daughter of Sir Winston.
The War in the Air
For a saving grace, we didn't see our dead, Who rarely bothered coming
home to die
But simply stayed away out there
In the clean war, the war in the air.
Seldom the ghosts came back bearing their tales Of hitting the earth,
the incompressible sea, But stayed up there in the relative wind,
Shades fading in the mind,
Who had no graves but only epitaphs
Where never so many spoke for never so few: 'Per ardua,' said the
partisans of Mars,
'Per aspera,' to the stars.
That was the good war, the war we won
As if there were no death, for goodness' sake, With the help of the
losers we left out there In the air, in the empty air.
— Howard Nemerov
In bombers named for girls, we burned
The cities we had learned about in school —
Till our lives wore out; our bodies lay among
The people we had killed and never seen.
When we lasted long enough they gave us medals;
When we died they said , 'Our casualties were low.'
— Randall Jarrell, 1963.
An airman is always quite free, sir.
To land with a bump or a greaser.
Any old clunk,
can land with a thump,
But pro's go for smoothie crowd pleasers.
Come now and now my love,
And leave your dying desert to the rain.
Give up your treasured wounds
Let go the tempting memory of the pain.
Give up the vows you've taken
And you will live
And you will learn to fly again
And you will fly.
And you will live my love,
And see the stars regain your starless night.
And you will find your sun
And know the magic meaning of its light.
All souls will be yours to cherish
Rising, falling in their earthly flight
And you will fly.
And I would love my love,
And she would seek a refuge in my eyes.
But no resource of love
Could keep her from the fire
Where loving dies.
And I would reach out my hand as she was
Falling, falling to her home on high
And she would fly.
— Ed Freeman. This is the original text of the lyrics,
emailed me by the author. The recording by Buffy Ste. Marie contains a
couple of changes, including change of gender and a last stanza that was a
repeat of some earlier lines.
U.S. Air Force Song
Off we go into the wild blue yonder,
Climbing high into the sun;
Here they come zooming to meet our thunder,
At 'em boys, Give 'er the gun! (Give 'er the gun now!)
Down we dive, spouting our flame from under,
Off with one helluva roar!
We live in fame or go down in flame. Hey!
Nothing'll stop the U.S. Air Force!
Minds of men fashioned a crate of thunder,
Sent it high into the blue;
Hands of men blasted the world asunder;
How they lived God only knew! (God only knew then!)
Souls of men dreaming of skies to conquer
Gave us wings, ever to soar!
With scouts before And bombers galore. Hey!
Nothing'll stop the U.S. Air Force!
Bridge: "A Toast to the Host"
Here's a toast to the host
Of those who love the vastness of the sky,
To a friend we send a message of his brother men who fly.
We drink to those who gave their all of old,
Then down we roar to score the rainbow's pot of gold.
A toast to the host of men we boast, the U.S. Air Force!
Off we go into the wild sky yonder,
Keep the wings level and true;
If you'd live to be a grey-haired wonder
Keep the nose out of the blue! (Out of the blue, boy!)
Flying men, guarding the nation's border,
We'll be there, followed by more!
In echelon we carry on. Hey!
Nothing'll stop the U.S. Air Force!
— Robert Crawford. He didn't write "Hey!"; he actually
wrote "SHOUT!" without specifying the word to be shouted. Wherever they
appear, the words "U.S. Air Force" have been changed from the original
"Army Air Corps." Words in parentheses are spoken, not sung. In 1938,
Liberty magazine sponsored a contest for a spirited, enduring musical
composition to become the official Army Air Corps song. Of 757 scores
submitted, Robert Crawford—s was selected by a
committee of Air Force wives. The song was officially introduced at the
Cleveland Air Races on 2 September 1939. Fittingly, Crawford sang in its
first public performance.
The first page of the score, which Crawford submitted to the selection
committee in July 1939, was carried to the surface of the Moon on 30 July
1971 aboard the Apollo 15 'Falcon' lunar module by Colonel David R. Scott
and Lieutenant Colonel James B. Irwin. Interestingly, at the moment the
'Falcon' blasted off the surface of the Moon with Scott and Irwin on
board, a rendition of the 'Air Force Song' was broadcast to the world by
Major Alfred M. Worden, who had a tape player aboard the 'Endeavor'
command module which was in orbit around the Moon. Scott, Irwin and Worden
comprised the only all-air-force Apollo crew .
The butterfly, the cabbage white,
(His honest idiocy of flight)
Will never now, it is too late,
Master the art of flying straight,
Yet has — who knows so well as I? —
A just sense of how not to fly:
He lurches here and here by guess
And God and hope and hopelessness.
Even the aerobatic swift
Has not his flying-crooked gift.
— Robert Graves, 1938
Up in the sky, a bird does soar,
High and swift
Asking no more
Its wings lift
And then fall
With majestic beauty
It sings a call
It is so free
And I am not
I wish I were he
and he were not.
— Major Stephen Morrell. Steve died in a skydiving
accident in 1996.
Give me the wings, magician! So their tune
Mix with the silver trumpets of the Moon,
And, beyond music mounting, clean outrun
The golden diapason of the sun.
There is a secret that the birds are learning
Where the long lanes in heaven have a turning
And no man yet has followed: therefore these
Laugh hauntingly across our usual seas.
I'll not be mocked by curlews in the sky;
Give me the wings, magician, or I die.
— Humbert Wolfe
Red River Valley (Vietnam Pilot Version)
To the Red River Valley we are going,
For to get us some trains and some trucks.
But if I had my say so about it,
I'd still be at home in the sack.
Come and sit by my side at the briefing,
Do not hasten to bid me adieu.
To the Red River Valley we're going,
And I'm flying four in Flight Blue.
We went for to check on the weather,
And they said it was clear as could be.
I lost my wingman 'round the field,
And the rest augured in out at sea.
S-2 said there's no flak where we're going,
S-2 said there's no flak on the way.
There's a dark overcast o'er the target,
I'm beginning to doubt what they say.
To the valley they say we are going,
And many strange sights will we see.
But the one there that held my attention,
Was the SAM that they threw up at me.
To the valley he said he was flying,
And he never saw the medal that he earned.
Many jocks have flown into the valley,
And a number have never returned.
So I listened as he briefed on the mission,
Tonight at the bar Teak Flight will sing.
But we're going to the Red River Valley,
And today you are flying my wing.
Oh, the flak is so thick in the valley,
That the MIGS and the SAMs we don't need.
So fly high and down-sun in the valley,
And guard well the ass of Teak Lead.
Now things turn to shit in the valley,
And the briefing I gave, you don't heed.
They'll be waiting at the Hanoi Hilton,
And it's fish heads and rice for Teak Lead.
We refueled on the way to the valley,
In the States it had always been fun.
But with thunder and lightning all around us,
'Twas the last AAR for Teak One.
When he came to a bridge in the valley,
He saw a duty that he couldn't shun.
For the first to roll in on the target,
Was my leader, old Teak Number One.
Oh, he flew through the flak toward the target,
With his bombs and his rockets drew a bead.
But he never pulled out of his bomb run,
'Twas fatal for another Teak Lead.
So come sit by my side at the briefing,
We will sit there and tickle the beads.
For we're going to the Red River Valley,
And my call sign for today is Teak Lead.
— Anon. Help please!
First Things First
The boundary lamps were yellow blurs
Against the winter night
And I had checked the last ship in
And snapped the office light,
And paused a while to let the ghosts
Of bygone days and men
Roam down the skies of auld lang syne
As one will now and then …
When fancy set me company
A red checked lad to stand
With questions gleaming in his eyes,
A model in his hand.
He may have been your boy or mine,
I could not clearly see,
But there was no mistaking how
His eyes were questing me
For answers which all sons must have
Who builds their toys in play
But pow'r them in valiant dreams
And fly them far away;
So down I sat with him beside
There in the dim lit shed
And with the ghost of better men
To check on me, I said:
"I cannot tell you, sonny boy,
The future of this art,
But one thing I can show you, lad,
An old time pilot's heart;
And you may judge what flight may give
Or hold in store for you
By knowing how true pilots feel
About the work they do;
And only he who dedicates
His life to some ideal
Becomes as one with he dreams
His future will reveal
Not one of whose wings are dust
Would call his bargain in,
Not one of us would welsh his part
To save his bloomin' skin,
Not one would wish to walk again
Unless allowed to throw
His heart into the thing he loved
And go as he would go:
Not one would change for gold or pow'r
Nor fun nor love nor fame
The part he played and price he paid
In making the good game.
And of the living … none, not one
Regrets the scars he bears,
The sheer uncertainty of plans,
The poverty he shares,
Remitted price for one mistake
That checks a bright career,
The shattered hopes, the scant rewards,
The future never clear:
And of the living … none, not one
Who truly loves the sky
Would trade a hundred earth bound hours
For one that he could fly.
If that sleek model in your hand
Which you have brought to me
Most represents the thing you love,
The thing you want to be,
Then you will fill your curly head
With knowledge, fact and lore,
For there is no short cut which leads
To aviation's door;
And only those whose zeal is proved
By patient toil and will
Shall ever have a part to play
Or have a place to fill."
And suddenly the lad was gone
On wings I could not hear,
But from afar off came his voice
In studied tones and clear,
A prophet's message simply told
For this is what he said
And why his hand will someday lead
"Who wants to fly has got to know:
Now two times two is four:
I've got to learn the first things first!
.. I closed the hangar door."
— Gill Robb Wilson.
The earth is a depot where wingless angels pass the time,
Waiting for the long journey home
Seeing a small boy, smiling in the corner, I ask him ;
—You must be anxious to get home ?—
—I am home— he replied — I just come here to play the games—
— Oliver Makin
I must to up to the skies again, to the white clouds and the grey,
And all I ask is a high launch, and the chance to —get away—;
And the wing—s surge, and the wind—s song, and the quiet clouds— drifting,
And a heat-haze on the land—s face, and the warm air—s lifting
I must go up to the skies again, for the call to soar and glide,
Is a free call, and a clear call, that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a sunlit day, and the bright height—s gaining,
—Neath the —new-cu— that towers above, and it's lift maintaining
I must go up to the skies again, to the peace of silent flight,
To the gull—s way, and the hawk—s way, and the free wings— delight;
And all I ask is a friendly joke with a laughing fellow rover,
And a large beer, and a deep sleep, when the long flight—s over
— Robbie, RAE Gliding Club, —Sailplane & Gliding—
The "airport" was a tan stripe
in a field of grass;
I remember pilot that trip
when you flew low for me
so I could see how the cornfields
were laid out -
Do you remember pilot my friend
how we skimmed the yellow miles
on the wings of an afternoon,
You shouting to me in the sun
—isn't it peaceful here
—isn't it peaceful here?
— E. F. Weisslitz
Someday we will know, where the pilots go
When their work on earth is through.
Where the air is clean, and the engines gleam,
And the skies are always blue.
They have flown alone, with the engine's moan,
As they sweat the great beyond,
And they take delight, at the awesome sight
of the world spread far and yon.
Yet not alone, for above the moan, when the earth is
out of sight,
As they make their stand, He takes their hand,
and guides them through the night.
How near to God are these men of sod,
Who step near death's last door?
Oh, these men are real, not made of steel,
But He knows who goes before,
And how they live, and love and are beloved,
But their love is most for air.
And with death about, they will still fly out,
And leave their troubles there.
He knows these things, of men with wings,
And He knows they are surely true.
And He will give a hand, to such a man
'Cause He's a pilot too.
— Leo Hymas.
When this life I'm in is done,
And at the gates I stand,
My hope is that I answer all
His questions on command.
I doubt He'll ask me of my fame,
Or all the things I knew, Instead,
He'll ask of rainbows sent
On rainy days I flew.
The hours logged, the status reached,
The ratings will not matter.
He'll ask me if I saw the rays
And how He made them scatter.
Or what about the droplets clear,
I spread across your screen?
And did you see the twinkling eyes.
If student pilots keen?
The way your heart jumped in your chest,
That special solo day-
Did you take time to thank the one
Who fell along the way?
Remember how the runway lights
Looked one night long ago
When you were lost and found your way,
And how-you still dont know?
How fast, how far, how much, how high?
He'll ask me not these things
But did I take the time to watch
The Moonbeams wash my wings?
And did you see the patchwork fields
And moutains I did mould;
The mirrored lakes and velvet hills,
Of these did I behold?
The wind he flung along my wings,
On final almost stalled.
And did I know I it was His name,
That I so fearfully called?
And when the goals are reached at last,
When all the flyings done,
I'll answer Him with no regret-
Indeed, I had some fun.
So when these things are asked of me,
And I can reach no higher,
My prayer this day - His hand extends
To welcome home a Flyer.
— Patrick J. Phillips
I hope there's a place, way up in the sky
Where pilots can go when they have to die.
A place where a guy could buy a cold beer
For a friend and a comrade whose memory is dear.
A place where no doctor or lawyer could tread,
Nor a management-type would e'ler be caught dead!
Just a quaint little place, kind of dark, full of smoke,
Where they like to sing loud, and love a good joke.
The kind of a place that a lady could go
And feel safe and secure by the men she would know.
There must be a place where old pilots go,
When their wings become heavy, when their airspeed gets low,
Where the whiskey is old, and the women are young,
And songs about flying and dying are sung.
Where you'd see all the fellows who'd 'flown west' before,
And they'd call out your name, as you came through the door,
Who would buy you a drink, if your thirst should be bad,
And relate to the others, "He was quite a good lad!"
And there, through the mist, you'd spot an old guy
You had not seen in years, though he'd taught you to fly.
He'd nod his old head, and grin ear to ear
And say, "Welcome, my Son, I'm proud that you're here!
For this is the place where true flyers come
When the battles are over, and the wars have been won.
They've come here at last, to be safe and alone,
>From the government clerk, and the management clone;
Politicians and lawyers, the Feds, and the noise,
Where all hours are happy, and these good ol' boys
Can relax with a cool one, and a well deserved rest!
This is Heaven, my Son. You've passed your last test!"
— Captain Michael J. Larkin, TWA (Ret.), 'Air Line
Pilot' magazine, February 1995.
Elsewhere on the website I have the entire text of
Darius Green and His Flying-Machine (1869)
by John Townsend Trowbridge on-line. And of course what maybe the
greatest aviation poem: High Flight