A Poem going down rather well in Australia

Date Published: 11th March 2018

Readers attending Alexander’s events in Dubai and Australia have been taken with a poem he read, The Language of Pilots. This poem is now included in Emirates Literature Festival 10th Anniversary book, For the Love of Words but we are pleased to reproduce it here too.

The language of pilots

By Alexander McCall Smith


They speak with high authority,

Ailerons and wings responsive

To their touch: their words

Are functional too, but

Why, I wonder, should a pilot

Not be a poet too, and say:

“We now descend at last

Through banks of cloud,

White fields as wide

As any ocean, at least when viewed

From where we are,

A few moments ago, or were,

For it is Bernoulli’s principle

That lifts and keeps us here,

Between the patient earth below

And this empty, soaring sky”

“Ladies and gentlemen, rain

Falls in distant veils;

Look from your windows

To the starboard side

Of this metal tube

We call an aircraft;

Look out there, and see

The rain, the grey-white

Shafts of rain; do you know

That those wisps of cloud

You see up above

Are crystals of ice, falling

Like gossamer? Did you

Know that? Now please

About your waists

Affix the belts; you must,

As slowly towards the earth we drop,

To land’s embrace,

(Your belts adjust);

We are a little late, but what

Are a few minutes, nothing more,

Here and there? Not much, I think.

Goodbye, and take with you

The things you brought,

Your few possessions. Goodbye

Until we meet again,

And once more we carry you,

On wings of steel, on wings of steel,

To places you would wish to go;

Goodbye, dear friends, it matters not

Whether you’re a member of

The loyalty scheme we’ve got;

We love you all, as parents

Love their children equally,

Remember that, and please come back.

Goodbye again, and cabin crew

Unbar the doors, let light be seen,

Secure what needs securing and

Cross check, whatever that might mean.

Goodbye: for soon these great engines

On landing will be silenced, and the earth,

The patient earth, our mutual home

Upon which we all may stand or sit,

Will embrace us once again; welcome home.”