“our century ends on pure speed:” the poetry of flight

By now, you’ve probably heard about Felix Baumgartner, who successfully completed a free fall from the edge of space on Sunday. (More details are here.) I’m relieved that the multiple things that could have gone wrong didn’t, that he got to experience the sight of that enormous sphere, and feel as much as a human being can of freedom.

I love these lines from Hart Crane’s “Cape Hatteras,” which describe the Wright brothers’ flight and the implications of that new technology:

Stars scribble on our eyes the frosty sagas,
The gleaming cantos of unvanquished space. . .
O sinewy silver biplane, nudging the wind’s withers!
There, from Kill Devils Hill at Kitty Hawk
Two brothers in their twinship left the dune;
Warping the gale, the Wright windwrestlers veered
Capeward, then blading the wind’s flank, banked and spun
What ciphers risen from prophetic script,
What marathons new-set between the stars!

I also love Tamura Ryuichi’s poem “Spiral Cliff” (from which the quote in the title line is taken); Ryuichi shares Crane’s ambivalence about technology and its effect on the human race:

In the photo a deer
is falling off a cliff
chased by
a lion? a tiger? a human?
I’m afraid of high places
the cliff in me
am I the hunter
or the prey?

FInally, a comparison to Icarus – the mythical figure who built wings from wax and feathers and flew toward the sun – is inevitable. Here, an excerpt from Anne Sexton’s poem, “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph:”

Consider Icarus, pasting those sticky wings on,
testing this strange little tug at his shoulder blade,
and think of that first flawless moment over the lawn
of the labyrinth. Think of the difference it made!
Who cares that he fell back to the sea?
See him acclaiming the sun and come plunging down
while his sensible daddy goes straight into town.

2 thoughts on ““our century ends on pure speed:” the poetry of flight

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