According the to Poetry Foundation’s biography of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, one of his main goals as a poet and publisher was “redeeming poetry from the ivory towers of academia and offering it as a shared experience with ordinary people.” I think Ferlinghetti does that quite well with this little poem, “Airplanes of the Heart.”
Airplanes of the Heart
The little airplanes of the heart
With their brave little propellers
What can they do
Against the wind of darkness
Even as butterflies are beaten back
yet do not die
They lie in wait wherever
They can hide and hang
Their fine wings folded
And when the killer wind dies
They flutter forth again
Into the new-blown light
Live as leaves.
I don’t know much about Ferlinghetti, but I do know that he was one of the main poets of the “Beat” generation and he started a famous bookstore in San Francisco called City Lights. I know that he published Allen Ginsburg’s anthem “Howl,” which certainly fulfilled Ferlinghetti’s mission to bring poetry out of the ivory towers.
And all of that information is valuable. But for me, the most valuable information is the inspiration and feeling that I get from a poem. And I feel hopeful when I read “Little Airplanes of the Heart.”
The first image that comes to me is that of the seedlings that will soon fill my patio–the propellor-like gifts that cover the ground in the spring as we wait for plants and flowers to wake us up in the spring. But more than that, the poem contains the seedlings of hope and of life that continues despite set-back and loss. The phrase “butterflies of loss” conjures images of friends and relatives that have passed away. I can still see their faces, hear their voices, and I know they are as close as a breeze.
And sometimes don’t we feel like the butterfly beaten back by a hurricane? Still, there is something so powerful about the human spirit, that no matter what challenges confront us or what losses we bear, we flutter forth and spread our colorful wings , buoyed by the winds of hope.
Thank you, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, for your beautiful gift of this poem. Enjoy!