To Beachey, 1912

To Beachey, 1912

Riding against the east,
A veering, steady shadow
Purrs the motor-call
Of the man-bird
Ready with the death-laughter
In his throat
And in his heart always
The love of the big blue beyond.

Only a man,
A far fleck of shadow on the east
Sitting at ease
With his hands on a wheel
And around him the large gray wings.
Hold him, great soft wings,
Keep and deal kindly, O wings,
With the cool, calm shadow at the wheel.

—Carl Sandburg, 1916

Karen Yelena Olsen, editor of On the Wing: American Poems of Air and Space Flight (University of Iowa Press, 2005), writes of this poem: "Lincoln Beachey (1887-1915) started out as a dirigible pilot in 1905 and learned to fly an airplane in 1910, quickly becoming the most celebrated and daring of the early exhibition aviators. The first American to fly an inside loop, he is credited with solving the problem of surviving a spin. In 1911 he flew under the International Bridge at Niagara Falls and in the same year set a world's altitude record of over two miles. His barnstorming feats included picking up a handkerchief from the ground with his wingtip, flying multiple loops, and climbing a mile, then diving straight down. While he was performing this vertical dive in front of 50,000 people at the San Francisco Panama Pacific Exposition, the wings tore off his monoplane, which crashed into the bay."  

Home page image: "Wegbereiter Ikarus," print, woodblock on paper, by Wilhelm Geissler, 1966. (Courtesy NASM)

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.