When the Doomed Poets Mobilise

What did they have to lose? Half of them had consumption, and the other half were sliding farther and farther into madness. They decided to go out in one last, brilliant blaze of glory. “It’s what Byron would have done,” said Ogden. “If he’d had access to airplanes and laser-guided missiles.” The doomed poets nodded.

Their planes were named fancifully: Childe Harold, Portinari, The Albatross Is A Bird Of Good Fortune, Northanger, Diana Weeping-Beech. Each was flown by a seventeen year-old crippled genius, his body wracked with pain, his lips bright with blood, but his hands steady enough on the controls.

They took off from their mountain hangars at dawn in late October, out over the forests, out into the pelagic mists, to circle the world. No government marked their leaving; no air control officer tracked their flight. The planes of the doomed poets were ink-blank and undetectable. Behind them the bases were empty, only a few pages left behind, scribbled with blank verse. I am myself but a weary link…

Over the continents they flew. Over the major cities of the world their bays opened. Bombs fell like similes, sowed destruction like literature.