Poem of the Month–June 2022

The poem of the month for June 2022 is “The Reconnaissance Plane,” by Dabney Horton.  Like Horton’s poem, “Pilot’s Luck,” which was the poem of the month last December, this poem is based on his experiences as a pilot flying with a French squadron during World War I. 

Horton was an American pilot who flew for the Aviation Militaire branch of France during World War I. He joined in the summer of 1916 and flew with three French escadrilles (squadrons) for the next two years. After completing his flight training, he was assigned to Escadrille C. 17 (which flew Caudron aircraft) from July 1917 to January of 1918. He then flew with Escadrille Sop. 255 in January and February of 1918 (this unit flew Sopwith aircraft). Finally he flew with Escadrille Spad 75 from September 1918 until the Armistice (11 November 1918). This escadrille flew SPAD XIII aircraft. A brief profile of Horton can be found Nordhoff and Hall’s Lafayette Flying Corps.

The Reconnaissance Plane 

Just above the trenches, a mile or so in height, 
We’re after information and we haven’t time to fight, 
Wireless man’s a-signalling the batteries below, 
“Five to left,” and “Two to left,” “Hold it now, just so!” 

Direct the guns for half-an-hour; we’re the only eyes they’ve got; 
Hope the Boches don’t knock us down with a bloomin’ lucky shot!  
Keep the motors roaring, then you’ll never hear 
The shrapnel that’s a-busting all along the rear.  

Pilot’s got to watch above.  Mustn’t fail to see 
The stubby wings and rounded tail that mark the L.V.G.  
The L.V.G.’s a wicked bird, got to use your eyes,  
He’ll send the wind right up your back if he takes you by surprise.  

Cra-a-ang!  In the right-hand motor!  Must’ve been a shell!  
Dive and turn—Dieu Merci, t’other motor’s going well!  
Cut the juice and shut her off, else we’ll share the fame 
Of Elijah’s ride to Heaven in a chariot of flame. 

With one single motor to do the work of two, 
Keep your eyes about you, the job is almost through.  
And now for home.  “Ah, le voila!  There he is at last!  
An L.V.G.’s a-coming, and he’s coming mighty fast!” 

The Luft Verkehrs Gesellschaft’s a beautiful machine, 
He’s full o’ speed and full o’ guns, and twice as full o’ spleen, 
But now that we have seen him, we’d better go away—
It’s supper-time there down below—we haven’t time to stay. 

So au revoir, my speedy foe, as you volplane from the blue, 
You may have a better motor, but I can drop as fast as you.  
Every wire a-whistling, hangars drawing near, 
Flatten out against the wind.  God! I’m glad I’m here!  

My mechanician’s going to weep when he sees the wreck,   
But what’s a busted motor against a busted neck!  
A cigarette, and in the shade a soft and roomy chair, 
To watch and count my comrades returning from the air, 
Like a troop of homing swallows a-circling to their nest-- 
That’s the part of flying that I like the best!   

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