(HOST) April is National Poetry Month, and it has inspired commentator Willem Lange to wonder if the muse of poetry is inherited – he hopes it isn’t.
(LANGE) A new banner of glory is unfurled
To the men whose feat thrilled the waiting world.
Their feat unachieved in years gone by
Since man made wings and learned to fly.
I have a scan of a bit of newsprint from a long-defunct paper in the small town of Berlin, Pennsylvania. It’s a poem titled "The Bremen’s Crew." The poet was Isobel Swope. She was celebrating the 1928 transatlantic flight of a German plane named the Bremen.
If there was any place in America where feats of German aviators would be celebrated, Berlin, Pennsylvania, was it. Founded by German immigrants, named after the capital of their homeland, and shepherded toward salvation by the Church of the Brethren, Berlin was almost Amish in its simplicity. Miss Swope’s family name, like so many others, had been Anglicized, from Schwab. Her ancestors had fought for the Union.
Gallant and brave they laughed at fate,
The outcome they scarce dared contemplate;
So westward they sailed o’er the ocean blue,
These three stout hearts which were staunch and true.
The Roaring Twenties, they were called. But Berlin wasn’t roaring in any way. I attended a block party there once, where the most exciting attraction was a rubber ball that rolled across a table of red, yellow, and blue muffin tins before settling into one and paying off the lucky bettors. Its schoolteachers were most likely not fans of Scott Fitzgerald or Sinclair Lewis, but Tennyson and Dickens. Hence the Victorian tone of Isobel’s poem.
Oh favored sons of the world were they,
For they reached the western shore, but stay
Thousands of miles from their goal they strayed,
And on Greenley Isle their landing made.
The Twenties were obsessed with the notion of flying the Atlantic. The US Navy had crossed in seven hops with flying boats in 1919. Two French pilots attempted the east-to-west crossing about 12 days before Lindbergh. They’ve never been found. A year after Lindbergh, two Germans and an Irish navigator set out to make the first east-to-west crossing in a Junkers W33 monoplane.
Their compass malfunctioned by as much as 40 degrees. Instead of New Jersey, they struck North America in the Torngat Mountains of northern Labrador. They flew up the George River, turned east, and finally set the plane down on an island near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. The plane was lightly damaged; they were not.
That was the exploit so purply described by the young Pennsylvania poetess:
The world gave them a lusty acclaim,
And won for them undying fame
Honor to them and give three cheers
To the stalwart sons of the pioneers!
You’ve got to wonder if talent like that can be passed on to descendants. Maybe, but I’m not sure I hope so. Because a few years after this poem was written, Isobel met another Anglicized German named William Lange. Thanks, Mom!
This is Willem Lange in East Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.