The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Stephen Spender’s “The Landscape near an Aerodrome” is a poem of thirty lines arranged into six stanzas of five lines each. The poem is a description of the flight of an airplane and its landing at an urban airport. Such a flight would still have been a somewhat unusual event in the 1930’s, and the speaker meditates upon the meaning and significance of the airplane, the landscape over which it flies, and the airport (“aerodrome” means airfield or airport) at which it arrives. The title suggests that the focus of the poem is the landscape, but in the first stanza the speaker describes the airplane. It is “More beautiful and soft than any moth/ With burring furred antennae feeling its huge/ path/ Through dusk.” In the first line, therefore, Spender announces his perspective: Modern machinery surpasses the traditional beauty of nature. However, nature is not completely lacking in the description of this machine: It has “furred antennae” like the moth to guide it through the air, but it is directed toward its destination by human design rather than by instinct. Significantly, it is gliding with “shut-off engines,” so there is no discordant sound of mechanical engines. Its descent is gentle, and it does not disturb the “charted currents of air.”

The second stanza shifts from an appreciative description of the airplane to the perspective of its passengers, who are “lulled” by its gentle descent. The landscape over which they...

(The entire section is 549 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The meter of “The Landscape near an Aerodrome” is primarily iambic with some trochaic substitutions, and the line length is hexameter with a few pentameter variations. For example, the first line is iambic pentameter, but the second shifts to iambic hexameter. The poetic purpose of these lines of uneven length is unclear, however, and seems more arbitrary or accidental than designed.

The major poetic device used to describe the airplane and the rural landscape over which it flies is personification. The farmland, for example, is described as a “feminine” landscape with “easy limbs.” Metaphor and simile become the dominant figures of speech in the poem as it develops from the early contrasts between the natural and the mechanical. The airplane is metaphorically seen as a moth with fur and antennae, although it is more beautiful. Similes tend to appear later: The urban houses “remark the unhomely sense of complaint, like a dog/ Shut out and shivering at the foreign moon,” and the chimneys are “like long black fingers/ Or figures, frightening and mad.” The change from the playful “winking” world of the airplane to the grimy city is dramatic. In a more positive simile, the boys at play are described as being “like wild birds.” Their cries, however, are “hid under the loud city.” The sound images are the crucial poetic device that Spender uses to establish the contrast between the natural and the urban landscapes. The gliding airplane makes no noise, but the city is loud. The tolling bell of the oppressive church is even louder, and it is inescapable. This onerous institution is also “blocking the sun” and bringing darkness upon the land, blotting out the promise of new technology and the freedom to pass effortlessly over the seas.