U.A. Fanthorpe’s “First Flight” is a free verse poem in fourteen stanzas, ranging in length from one to four lines. There are two speakers, but they do not interact, so the poem is either two interwoven monologues (one of which is probably at least mainly interior) or a dialogue between people who are not listening to each other.
The first speaker is the nervous first flier. She begins by remarking that she does not like “the feel of it” (either speaker could be of either sex. For the sake of grammatical simplicity, I have assumed that both, like the poet, are female). She worries:
In a car I’d suspect low tyre pressure.
After describing the new in terms of the familiar, the contrast between the two is intensified as the earth “slithers” away while those around the first flier stolidly continue their conversations and reading their newspapers, oblivious to the miracle of human flight. At this point, the second speaker chimes in with a comment that this is “rather a short hop” for her. The comment comes in the middle of the first speaker’s sentence, as though she is being interrupted, though it is most likely that her monologue is an interior monologue and it is her thoughts that are interrupted.
The second speaker’s tone is a complete contrast to the first. She is worldly, boastful, confident, and rather patronizing. In the penultimate stanza, she asks if her interlocutor knows where Beijing is (not, surely, a particularly recondite piece of knowledge) and encourages her to try saying it. Her prosaic comments contrast with the striking images and figurative language of the first speaker, which emphasize the novelty of the experience. The land beneath is compared with a meringue (hills or mountains under snow, perhaps), and the clouds bear a “tangerine stain.”
In the antepenultimate stanza, the first speaker becomes philosophical, saying that they are “too high for history.” Time, place and events are suspended for the duration of the flight. The initial nervousness has disappeared and the first flier’s tone is now serene. The poem ends with a paradox. Nothing lives at this height, since they are “Too cold. Too near the sun.” The paradox of it being colder as one approaches the sun reflects the unnatural enterprise of humans flying at all, a sensation still new enough for the speaker that she regards it with a sense of wonder.