Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Aeroplane (1962)

For all those who think engineers can't write poetry!

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The Aeroplane
(c) 1962 Alan T. Chattaway

O Aeroplane!  Thou gleaming silver bird,
Shimmering in thy glory, hear my word,
For I too long have tarried in this land,
And now my eye grows feeble, and my hand
Trembles to write these words, my weary plea:
O Aeroplane!  Please take me to the sea!

When I first brought my soul to Rhodes' fair land
My fate lay in the noble pilot's hand.
Through sky and cloud he safely brought me in
While I, through youth's sweet nature, trusted him.
He set me down, and I stepped out anew
Into the land where all my dreams came true.

Thus seemed it to me then - but now, alack!
The burden of my years lies on my back.
I long to visit lands beyond my own,
Forget my labours - leave my cares at home,
And, thus released from worry, to ensure
I once again will hear the ocean's roar.

My wish it is, therefore, that I should fly
Down to the place where earth and sea meet sky.
The Aeroplane - that silver eagle there -
Must list to me, must hear my weary prayer,
My longing cry, the lonely person's plea:
O Aeroplane!  Please take me to the sea!

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In 1962, halfway through my first year as a boarder at Gilbert Rennie School* in Lusaka, Northern Rhodesia, I entered a writing contest open to all high school seniors in the Federation**.  The topic was "Why I would like to go on a Central African Airways all-inclusive holiday to the sea," and if you won, you would get that trip.

The contest was open to both prose and poetry, so I decided to write a poem as a bit of a lark - though I can see that I gave it my best shot, and harboured deeper feelings than some might expect of a 16-year-old.

A couple of months later I received good news and bad news.  The good news was that I had won!  The bad news was that the judges were unable to choose between my poem and a prose entry by a girl, so they had split the first prize between us.  Rather than one of us receiving the promised trip to the sea, each of us could fly anywhere within our own landlocked Federation (a judgment worthy of Solomon!).

I used the opportunity to visit my friend Jeremy Thorne at his home in Malawi.  Since I had to change planes in Salisbury***, and because I planned to study engineering, CAA took me on a personal tour of their maintenance department in Salisbury between my flights.

Verse 2 recalls my arrival in Northern Rhodesia at age 6.  I came from England, where luxuries like candy were still rationed 7 years after World War II.  When I arrived at Ndola airport, I saw some candies in the tearoom and asked my dad "are they on coupons?" (knowing full well that they were not - children manipulate their parents!).  My dad bought me the entire jar! 

[Update 2010-08-07: I left Africa in 1968 without a written copy of this poem, and re-wrote it from memory a few years later. Today I found the original [with typos] in our 1962 school magazine, posted by Chris Waller at My memorized version was accurate except for two words, which I have now corrected above, and I have also corrected these notes.]

     * now Kabulonga School for Boys
   ** The Federation consisted of Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland.  In 1964 the Federation was dissolved and the countries were renamed Zambia, Rhodesia and Malawi.  Rhodesia was later renamed Zimbabwe.
 *** now Harare, Zimbabwe

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