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Lay for the Day
17th December


A winter’s day beside the Atlantic Ocean. Up on Kill Devil Hill, among the mountainous sand-dunes of the northeastern seaboard, Orville Wright perches precariously in his glorified kite, leaves the solid ground of North Carolina behind him, wobbles into the air for 12 seconds, and covers 40 yards in the first manned, powered, heavier-than-air flight.
It’s 1903. In less than 20 years, a descendant of that craft would be able to cross the Atlantic Ocean, and in less than 50 one could go non-stop around the world.

 

Icarus Beneath the Waves

The wonder is not that I fell so low
but that I climbed at all
and the pity is not that the clear sky
dropped me, but that my childhood had to go
before I dared to leap;
not that I went too high
but, having no further to fall,
I have no deeper seas in which to sleep.

The broken floor of light that shifts above,
darkening then brightening
the steep-struck water daily, black to blue,
bars the friendly fire with which I fell in love.
Fine shell thickens the sand,
and bones of the sea-mew,
bones of the porpoise whitening,
and dust of vessels lost with every hand.

The ruins of my wings that sank more slow
are waving at my side
and at my head and feet. Father! I cry
as he follows me down, who could not know,
to him or to that sphere
where I aspired to die?
There nothing fades, no creatures slide
on my shade like the shy and odd ones here.

He by his cunning has worked his escape.
Done with a final glide,
furled in a grove now, his feathered device
shall be firewood, sooner than fools can gape
at a toy for their king.
Had he not made it twice,
nor caused his son to share his pride,
what myth of his mind could the makers sing?

My vain desires alone immortalise
his unexampled skill;
through me descend the masters of the air.
Lacking his boundless thought, the next who flies
can only take my heart.
So to plunge from the glare
to this dimness that earth’s tears fill,
to fail was, after all, the greater part.

 
John Gibbens
from Zeus’s Camera

 

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar


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