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Through the Eyes of Angels

Look down upon the Earth as angels might!
See seas as insignificant as ponds,
Each desert a mere sandbox. From this height
Vast forests are a park, the sun a bronze

And distant torch! The mountains are like toys
Built up from pebbles, rocky termite mounds
Whose craggy peaks stretch up with rugged poise.
We soar so high the air conveys no sounds

As we watch rivers braid the plains like veins
To quench a thirsty land and help life thrive.
The clouds below us cross the fields like trains
And everything we survey seems alive.

Our world is half in shadow, half in light
And cycles every day through space and time.
From up this high there’s nary room for spite
For Heaven’s Stair is but a nearby climb.

When we look upwards with a child’s calm trust
The sea of stars seems like infinity.
But when we look through angels’ eyes we just
Might see beyond them to Divinity.

.

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Aboard the Graf Zeppelin 

An Ode

“In an airship one doesn’t fly—one voyages.”
—Hugo Eckener, captain of the Graf Zeppelin.

O man-made cloud, O airborne behemoth—
You ruled the skies of Europe twixt the Wars
With grace and grandeur like some ancient myth.
Sleek veteran of storms and foreign shores—
Graf Zeppelin! Fabled ship of storied name!
No soul who saw you failed to be impressed
From Friedrichshafen-on-the-Bodensee
To Dresden and Berlin. You earned great fame,
For in those days you symbolized the best
Of what machines could give humanity.

But you were not created out of sighs!
‘Twas Hugo Eckener who raised cash and will
To have you built, then flew you through the skies
From Germany to New York and Brazil.
Aluminum and copper were your frame
And sheep intestines served as air-tight skin
And cells for hydrogen so you could float
(With care to never fly near open flame!)
You soared with nary motor noise nor din—
A floating castle— but without the moat!

Your greatest feat which showed the world your worth
Took place in August, 1929
When you achieved a flight around the Earth:
From Lakehurst in New Jersey to the Rhine,
Across bleak Russia, onward to Japan,
The vast Pacific, then the U.S. plains,
Then back to Lakehurst. Circumnavigation
Of all the world! Dirigible and Man
In harmony, freed from the sordid chains
Of gravity—a flight of liberation!

All stopped to read your updates in the papers;
Hearst’s journals covered each leg of the flight
As airship fever seized the world. Your capers,
And then your final triumph were like light
To millions. Lindbergh dropped to second best!
Your great achievement climaxed the Jazz Age,
As Herbert Hoover called your nation “friend.”
Your captain got parades, a well earned rest,
And German honor now took center stage.
But the Depression brought this to an end.

Your captain was a good man: Hugo Eckener,
The soul of decency who knew how great
Dirigibles could be, a clever reckoner
Of lift and vectors. Less so of the State.
He loved his country, but when Hitler rose
To power Eckener dared to show disdain
And would not offer his cooperation.
Despite his warnings, German voters chose
A tyrant who, both evil and insane,
Was willing to destroy a cultured nation.

In just six years, with Nazi power soaring,
They seized the Zeppelin Company’s control
And gave free reign to Goebbels and to Goring
Who scrapped the Graf and aimed for Eckener’s soul.
He could not work with them or compromise.
They forced him to create one final ship
Then silenced him in every staat and burg.
The shallow Nazis aimed for speed and size
And flung off safety from their iron grip.
Who here does not recall The Hindenburg?

But I would rather think of you, Great Ship,
Free-floating through the skies and melting hearts
Ere Germany fell to the Nazis’ grip.
They left you broken, scavenged for spare parts—
Your dignity yet one more thing they stole.
Old newsreels show a titan in the sky,
A miracle of aviation history;
Technology which did not harm the soul.
Graf Zeppelin, you once made the whole world sigh!
How you could be forgotten is a mystery.

.

.

Brian Yapko is a lawyer who also writes poetry. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


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32 Responses

  1. Paul Buchheit

    Brian, I never thought I’d be reading an ode to a Zeppelin, but I really enjoyed it!

    Reply
    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you very much, Paul. Doing my best to not become too predictable with my subject matter! Plus I love zeppelins.

      Reply
  2. Roy Eugene Peterson

    Brian, you provide a fascinating and vivid perspective from an angelic point of view and punctuate it wonderfully with “But when we look through angels’ eyes we just Might see beyond them to Divinity.” I was reminded of a planet as a playpen for angels with Legos as building blocks! The history of the Graf Zeppelin is also a great presentation with vivid imagery that is compelling and informative at the same time. Great works!

    Reply
    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you very much, Roy! I’m intrigued by the planet as a playpen for angels! I hope you write about it! And funny you should mention Legos because they made a brief appearance in a rough draft of “Through the Eyes of Angels.”

      Reply
  3. Cheryl Corey

    Of course, I knew about the Hindenburg, but I knew nothing about Mr. Eckener, so this made for very educational reading. He was obviously a man of vision.

    Reply
    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you for commenting, Cheryl. I knew nothing about Hugo Eckener until I read a biography of him. He was a man of both vision and integrity. He was also considered a great German hero. In 1932 he was actually sought after to run for German chancellor against the Nazi party’s candidate, Adolf Hitler. But once Paul von Hindenburg decided to run for a second term as chancellor, Eckener bowed out. History would be very different if Eckener had accepted that nomination and run against Hitler.

      Reply
  4. Paul Freeman

    The Hindenburg fell from the sky,
    for German’s a smack in the eye.
    Of airplanes folk raved,
    and so the world waved
    the era of airships goodbye.

    A poor second to your ode, Brian, which is an education in itself.

    And I really liked your view of Earth ‘Through the Eyes of Angels’. Thought-provoking on many levels.

    Thanks for the reads.

    Reply
    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you very much, Paul! A limerick on the Hindenburg disaster! That’s amazing. We should have a contest for improbable limericks on unpoetic historical events!

      Reply
  5. Jeff Eardley

    Brian, I always feel a glow of anticipation when I see your name on these pages and none more so than these two uplifting flights of fancy. I have often felt great tranquility when gazing out of a plane window and your Zeppelin piece has sent me reaching for Wikipedia (again) You have managed to entertain and educate once more. Great stuff today.

    Reply
    • Brian A Yapko

      Jeff, thank you so much — this is such a generous remark! I have a tendency of getting excited about historical discoveries and then I want to share them. I enjoy both entertaining and sharing things I’ve learned. And there is indeed incredible serenity to be had by traveling in an airship. I had the incredible experience of flying in a zeppelin in Friedrichshafen over Lake Constance 18 years ago and there’s nothing like it.

      Reply
  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    Notice that in “Through the Eyes of Angels” the poet links the first three quatrains by enjambing the last lines of quatrains 1 and 2 to the subsequent one in each following quatrain. The other thing that is unmistakable here is the lack of any hesitation to use ALL the words that you want, and not just the ones approved by timorous, modernist-influenced colleagues and editors. Brian is not terrified of adjectives, or of straightforward similes.

    One question: Isn’t the first line of the last quatrain missing a foot? Wouldn’t it be better to write:

    When eyes turn upward with a child-like trust…

    If you want to avoid the close repetition of the word “like” in the next line, you might try this:

    The sea of stars evokes infinity

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      I too consider “child” a single syllable because it has only one vowel, but over and over again in SCP posts, we find a word featuring long vowel I followed by a liquid consonant (R or L) scanned as two syllables. As you know, this is related to the Great Vowel Shift, with I at the top of the chart having nowhere to shift, unless by becoming two syllables (ah plus ee).

      Reply
      • Mike Bryant

        Yes the “ah plus ee” is, of course, a diphthong .
        The long vowel sounds of “A,” “I” and “O” are all diphthongs. These sounds are not heard in Spanish, with which I am most familiar. I believe the same can be said of all Romance languages.
        Long “A” is, of course, the short “e” + short “i” sound.
        Long “I” is the short “a” + short “i” sound, and
        Long “O” is the short “o” + long “u” sound.
        When you place TWO vowel sounds next to a fluid consonant, as you pointed out Margaret, you get a VERY LONG syllable.
        So, it makes sense that these types of words should be acceptable, because of this AND regional differences in accent, as either one OR two syllables in Formal poetry. I could be wrong…

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Mike, I believe you are right. We have regular discussions on pronunciation, with this very problem cropping up frequently. As a consequence, I have broadened my perceptions where rigid regulations surrounding syllables are concerned… it pains me to say it, but I have become very flexible and chill where this type of problem occurs… am I wrong? I don’t think so…but I’m sure many poets will be shocked.

      • Mike Bryant

        Maybe, baby, this all fits under “metrical variation”…. x

      • Brian A Yapko

        Margaret, as I mention to Dr. Salemi, I’ve always pronounced “child” as a two-syllable word — almost certainly as a result of my upbringing in Michigan. But in my review of other poetry and music I’ve found that child is seldom treated as a two-syllable word. It’s a very interesting conflict between what sounds right to my ear versus how readers receive my words. I write poetry to please myself, but it’s not my private diary. If I seek to have my work published and read by others, I don’t want to distract readers from the content of the poem by having them question pronunciation. And so I am deferring to you one-syllabler advocates and altering the line.

        It is fascinating to think that Chaucer would have pronounced “child” as “cheeld.” Has anyone ever figured out why the Great Vowel Shift even took place?

      • Brian A Yapko

        Mike and Susan, thank you for your contributions to this discussion regarding diphthongs, accents and sundry pronunciation issues. I’m slowly becoming convinced that unless I’m making an effort to write in dialect as with my “In Cockney” poem it’s a good thing to aspire towards a standard English pronunciation. I’m writing for publication rather than just for myself and I don’t want to distract readers. That being said, I also note that when one reads Shakespeare or other poets of different ages, the reader must be able to step into the poet’s pronunciation “shoes” so to speak. Especially with Shakespeare as otherwise many of his puns won’t work nor will his meter properly scan. I’ve long been baffled by Lord Bryon’s pronunciation Ju-un pronunciation of Juan in “Don Juan”, not to mention Shakespeare’s “Zhay-queez” pronunciation of Jacques in “As You Look It” and many others.

    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you for this generous comment, Joseph! I appreciate your analysis of my enjambment. It’s not a technique I employ often, so it’s slightly experimental for me and I’m glad it works. As for adjectives, gosh — they’re one of the funnest parts of writing poems. And the English language offers such an incredible array of great words for the poet to employ.

      I’m a bit torn by your “child” observation. On the issue of pronunciation, I guess I’m betraying my Midwest roots (originally from Michigan) and I have always pronounced “child” with a diphthong so that it’s two syllables. However, that doesn’t make it right! It’s just what I’m used to. To satisfy myself on the issue of how others perceive the word (one versus two syllables) I’ve sifted through a fair amount of poetry and music and in most cases “child” is presented as a one-syllable word as you point out. (Margaret, too.) But it still sounds like two in my ear — such is the persistence of linguistic training. More on this in a moment.

      There is then the question of content. “Child-like” doesn’t mean as much to me as stand-alone “child” — primarily because I’m referring back to Christ’s admonition in Luke “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” To be a little child is not quite the same thing as being “child-like.”

      All that being said, I think in the end you are right. If I send poetry out into the world it’s no longer just for me — it’s also for the reader. And the last thing I want to do is distract from whatever it is my poem is trying to communicate. And so I shall alter that line. I think I will go for something like “When eyes turn upward with a child’s calm trust”… In fact, I think that’s it. I’ll contact Mike to ask him to make that change. Joseph, thank you for keeping me honest. And in the future I’m going to beware of the diphthongs. In fact, that might be a good subject for a poem…

      Reply
  7. Mike Bryant

    Brian, I love the focus on the heavens. Beautiful contemplative offerings… as we turn our eyes to the sky, the heavens return the favor.
    As for the zeppelin…what a civilized way to travel… and the time contemplating how the angels see us could never be wasted time.
    Your poetry informs, inspires and educates.

    Reply
    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you so much, Mike! I agree about contemplating angel-vision! I also agree about travel by zeppelin. I have flown in a zeppelin and it’s a wonderful experience!

      Reply
  8. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Brian, to me, these poems speak of our awesome Creator and how we should be humbled by those who see us from greater plains… for with angels’ eyes we would see: “… seas as insignificant as ponds,
    Each desert a mere sandbox. From this height
    Vast forests are a park, the sun a bronze / And distant torch! (Excellent employment of enjambment).

    BUT… and here comes your next superb poem… we are born to create, and some of the greatest creations have been trampled on by those who don’t appreciate the wonder of our dreams. ‘Aboard the Graf Zeppelin’ reminds me of the day Concorde took its last tour in the London skies… my teenage son saw it glide overhead and asked me why… why we were looking backwards… I had no answer Brian, I feel I may have brought a tad too much of myself to these poems and I am walking away with a lump in my throat… all because of your words. Whether I get them or not, I love these poems.

    Reply
    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you very much indeed, Susan! I’m very pleased that you liked my “Eyes of Angels” poem. I’m not much of an enjamber, so I’m glad I’m getting it right!

      I truly love your comment about the Graf Zeppelin and the Concorde. Why are we looking backwards indeed. Humanity is capable of creating so many wonderful things. Why must we spend so much time and treasure creating things that demean humanity rather than uplift it? That’s what I loved about the Graf Zeppelin — technology which didn’t harm the soul. I’d love to see you write a poem about the Concorde. It’s a very evocative scene that you describe!

      Reply
  9. Margaret Coats

    In a non-materialistic view of celestial motion, it is the angels who move the stars. Therefore, looking at the stars through eyes of angels means looking in the same way that their very motive powers see them. At that place, the viewer is indeed very close to the Prime Mover! The entire poem is a marvelous panorama of ingenious description shaping exalted metaphysical insights for the reader.

    The Zeppelin ode is a mighty work for a mighty topic. It is interesting to take a poetic and historic and cultural look at something I would not otherwise have examined. And at this point you, Brian, have taken over for the pilot. Fine flying!

    Reply
    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you very much, Margaret. I really enjoyed writing the Angels poem because I wanted to feel closer to the Prime Mover. I greatly appreciate your interest in my Zeppelin ode — an unusual subject to be sure. It’s very difficult to write a piece regarding what is essentially a machine and to give it life. It’s also very difficult to write a narrative in ode form. I’m glad you feel I’ve done a creditable job and I love your compliment of “fine flying!” Thank you!

      Reply
  10. Joshua C. Frank

    Brian, these are really good!

    “Through the Eyes of Angels” makes me think of flight in a new way; when we look at the ground from miles above, we see what an angel might see, and, like everything else, it’s supposed to direct our minds to them and to God. I especially love “the mountains are like toys.”

    “Aboard the Graf Zeppelin:” Wow, you really make history come alive in that one! More please! You could compile your historical poems in a book and market it as an educational tool. I would have enjoyed history class a lot more if it had been enhanced by poems like that!

    Reply
    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you so much, Josh! Yes, the whole point of “Through the Eyes of Angels” is to direct our minds to God. And I’m glad you liked the “Graf Zeppelin!” I would love it if history were taught through poetry. It is (for me) such an interesting subject and I think one of the blessings of poetry is that it can help bring it alive.

      Reply
  11. Yael

    Both of these poems are highly enjoyable, especially as a pair, thank you. I love how each one expresses a birds-eye perspective from a different vantage point. The angelic perspective probably yields more satisfaction in the long run than the man-made technological endeavor of defying gravity with clever mechanical inventions to get a better view, which your poems describe very well.

    Reply
    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you very much indeed, Yael! I agree with you about the angelic perspective versus the zeppelin. The angel poem came more from my heart than from my head but was actually inspired by the zeppelin flight.

      Reply

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