Poem of the Month: May 2020

The poem for this month is “Airplanes 1938,” written by Edward Weismiller and published in his collection of poems called The Faultless Shore, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1946.  It describes how the early vision of the airplane as a harbinger of good was tarnished by its use as a weapon of war, specifically as an instrument of destruction in the Spanish Civil War and then in World War II.


Airplanes, 1938

That was when flight was the long, silver dream
Curling with cloud, and spangled by the sun;
Teaching no death, except what heaven might seem;
No end of time; only how time might run

Endless and endless, over and under space,
Always the same, and being the same, not there –
Strong as a circling web of metal lace,
Or frail as the cold spider’s shivering stair.

That was when flight was the clean, silver song
Heard in the massed buildings; down dark lanes;
When we could live forever – but not long
Without the consuming music of the planes.


They are the cuckoo’s young. Separate and grim
They have left the crucible, and do not at all
Follow the makers’ words now, but a hymn
Of ruin: the sirens’ call:

Restless, they mouth the wind. In their flying
Will be malice and time, the doom of kings,
Both hired; so they start out low and crying,
The trade-marks of oblivion on their wings –

They beat a pathway up through a kind of heaven
For idiot hate that spills its seeds in air –
And so they come, cold, and always groaning, driven
Toward cities only loved, and never fair:

They come: they have beat through time to this one hour,
The raging musics mingle over the walls,
The builder runs mad from the branching tower.
The world roars, and falls.


That was when flight was the dream, the silver song.
It is over now; not as the moon wanes.
We wake in the shrieking dark to the downward, long
Fall of time – to the endlessness of planes.

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