The Skipping Rope
by Alfred Lord Tennyson
SURE never yet was antelope
Could skip so lightly by.
Stand off, or else my skipping-rope
Will hit you in the eye.
How lightly Whirls the skipping-rope !
How fairy-like you fly !
Go, get you gone, you muse and mope –
I hate that silly sigh.
Nay, dearest, teach me how to hope,
Or tell me how to die.
There, take it, take my skipping-rope,
And hang yourself thereby.
Lincoln Beachey was a pilot and daredevil beyond compare during the hey day of the bi-plane in the early days of human flight. Beachey mastered flying in ways that other pilots couldn’t conceive, maneuvers so difficult that copycats often lost their lives in their attempt to learn them. Then Beachey committed the greatest flaw of the human condition, he made an assumption that proved fatal. When the monoplane came along, the early versions were constructed with the same flimsy materials that bi-planes were made of, but since monoplanes require faster speeds to provide lift, it meant the g-forces exerted on the structure of the plane are greater as well in aerial manuevers, and when Beachey took his first monoplane up to test its ability to execute the skills he had mastered in a bi-plane, the wings fell off and he plummeted to his death. Some mistakes you don’t come back from.
Beachey’s ignoble death has relegated him to the back lot of history, with the only early aviators who are commonly known are the Minnesotan Charles Lindbergh who made the first crossing of the Atlantic in 1927 and Amelia Earhart who is famous for crashing into the Pacific Ocean somewhere and was never heard from again.
What does Beachey have to do with poetry? Sometimes we have to fly faster than our wings were designed, and then like Tennyson says, “Teach me how to hope, or tell me how to die.”
Check out the Radiolab podcast link below to hear the whole wonderful story about Lincoln Beachy and how he became immortalized in San Francisco culture as a line in a jump rope song.
by Alfred Lord Tennyson
Me my own fate to lasting sorrow doometh:
Thy woes are birds of passage, transitory:
Thy spirit, circled with a living glory,
In summer still a summer joy resumeth.
Alone my hopeless melancholy gloometh,
Like a lone cypress, through the twilight hoary,
From an old garden where no flower bloometh,
One cypress on an inland promontory.
But yet my lonely spirit follows thine,
As round the rolling earth night follows day:
But yet thy lights on my horizon shine
Into my night when thou art far away;
I am so dark, alas! and thou so bright,
When we two meet there’s never perfect light.