Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

Elegy for a Jet Pilot

Elegy for a Jet Pilot

Do you find plane rides peaceful or stressful? Sometimes they are a bit of both. In the poem “Elegy for a Jet Pilot” (1972), the American poet A.R. Ammons (1926-2001) describes the majestic flight of a jet that soars through the evening sky but eventually ends up crashing into the countryside. In this modern take on an elegiac poem, Ammons explores the idea of death without drawing attention to personal experiences or feelings of grief. Rather than describing the crash and the emotions attached to it, he simply describes the rustled nature that surrounds the plane after its unexpected “stop” (20).

"Elegy for a Jet Pilot" Information Overview
Poet: A.R. Ammons (1926-2001)
Year Published:1972
Type of Poem:Modern elegy
Meaning: Death can be sudden, anticlimactic, and understated
Literary/Poetic Devices:Metaphor, enjambment, syntax, personification, sibilance, rhyme, assonance, imagery, word choice, juxtaposition, irony, and consonance
Themes: Death and nature

"Elegy for a Jet Pilot": Background Information and Context

"Elegy for a Jet Pilot" is a poem written by American poet A.R. Ammons. The poem was originally published in Ammons's National Book Award-winning poetry collection entitled Collected Poems, 1951‐1971 (1972).

The poet Archibald Randolph Ammons, or A.R. Ammons for short, was greatly influenced by his rural upbringing on a tobacco farm in North Carolina. His poetry was also influenced by his experience as a World War II sonar operator in the U.S. Navy. Ammons is known for subtly using both solemn and sarcastic tones in his poetry, which can be seen in the poem "Elegy for a Jet Pilot."

In the poem, A.R. Ammons describes a plane crash in the American countryside. Although no particular person is mentioned, the remembrance of the pilot is expressed through the description of the flight and crash, which is painted in vivid, calming, yet action-driven words.

An elegy is a type of poem that expresses remembrance for the dead.

"Elegy for a Jet Pilot": Poem

"Elegy for a Jet Pilot" is written in a single sentence stanza.

While reading the poem, pay attention to how the poet uses light and color to develop the atmosphere, or mood, of the poem.

The blast skimsover the stringof takeoff lightsandrelinquishingplace and timelofts toseparation:the plume, rosesliver, growsacross thehigh-lit eveningsky: by thisMays Landing creekshot pinecones,skinned huckleberrybush, laurelswaths definean unbelievablyparticular stop.”

"Elegy for a Jet Pilot": Summary

The plane takes off over the lights that line the runway. It flies through the air and emits a jet stream trail that can be seen across the evening sky. The plane crashes into the countryside, surrounded by the nature it has damaged. The speaker ironically remarks that the crash was "an unbelievably / particular stop" (19 to 20).

Elegy for a Jet Pilot, Jet Landing, StudySmarterFig 1: Ammons describes the plane flying in the evening time to develop a calming atmosphere.

"Elegy for a Jet Pilot": Meaning

"Elegy for a Jet Pilot" conveys the meaning that death can be sudden, anticlimactic, and understated. The poem tells the story of a plane taking off, soaring through the air, and crashing in 20 short lines of poetry. There is very little distinction between the events. It is as if the plane's ascent and landing are a suave, singular motion. However, they result in a fatal end.

The poet does not clearly distinguish events to suggest how death can come about so suddenly, unexpectedly, and unknowingly. A.R. Ammons does not even state that the plane crashes; he simply uses a description of the surrounding land to allude to what has happened.

Elegy for a Jet Pilot, Jet Stream Trails, StudySmarterFig 2: The "plume" that "grows" behind the jet are jet stream trails (9,10). They expand into the air, creating calming, cloud-like patterns in the sky.

"Elegy for a Jet Pilot": Analysis of Form

While traditional English elegiac poetry expresses the speaker's deeply felt grief and fond remembrance of the deceased individual, A.R. Ammon's elegy is short, subtle, and does not even address a particular person. Ammon's "Elegy for a Jet Pilot" is a modern elegy that focuses on the broader idea of death rather than personal grief.

"Elegy for a Jet Pilot" is written in a single stanza of 20 short lines of poetry. The shortness of the individual lines and the poem as a whole reflect the brevity of the flight—and the brevity of life. One second the plane is taking off powerfully and beautifully; the next, it has crashed into the countryside.

The poem does not have a set meter or rhyme scheme, but it does make use of rhyme and sound-related literary devices to lend a smooth reading to the poem. This mimics the smooth, gliding flight.

"Elegy for a Jet Pilot": Literary Devices

Even in the span of a short, 20-line poem, A.R. Ammons is able to use a plethora of literary devices.

Metaphor

In the poem, the flight can be seen as a metaphor for life. Through this metaphor, A.R. Ammons conveys that life is fleeting and unpredictable. One moment everything is beautifully in motion. In the next, everything is stopped and life is gone.

Enjambment and Syntax

The entire poem is only one sentence separated by two colons. Ammons uses this run-on sentence syntax to simulate the speed and singular motion of the plane from take-off. The poem is a single stream of words, just as a single jet stream flows from a plane.

The enjambment of the short lines of poetry creates a floating feeling, as the poem is revealed in only a few words at a time, leaving space for anticipation and contemplation in between. The enjambment in the poem is only broken by the two colons, which are the only indicators differentiating the phases of the plane's flight—take-off, soaring, and crash landing.

Syntax is the arrangement of words or phrases used to build a sentence.

Enjambment is the continuation of one line of poetry into the next without any form of punctuation in between.

"The blast skimsover the stringof takeoff lightsandrelinquishingplace and timelofts toseparation:"

(Lines 1 to 8)

Personification and Sound-Related Literary Devices

A.R. Ammons personifies the motion of the plane, giving humanlike characteristics to its movement as it "grows / across" the sky. The word "plume," which can mean both the jet stream of the plane and a large feather, evokes the idea of a bird. The plane is so natural in its power and movement through the sky that it seems like it must be alive.

The poet emphasizes this smooth flying through sound-related literary devices. Ammons uses sibilance to create a slick-sounding whisper when the poem is read aloud. This emphasizes the quiet and calm of the sky as the plane flies through.

Ammons uses the rhyming words "rose" and "grows" to perpetuate this smooth reading by establishing assonance of the "O" sound. The repetition of the "O" sounds elongates the words, evoking the idea of the "plume" elongating in a stream behind the jet.

Sibilance is the repetition of the "S" sound in nearby words. Sibilance creates a whispering or hissing sound effect.

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words.

"the plume, rosesliver, growsacross thehigh-lit evening"

(9 to 12)

Imagery, Word Choice, and Juxtaposition

The poet's unique word choice leads to intriguing, contrasting visual imagery. He pairs descriptions of natural plants with aggressive, militaristic adjectives—"shot pinecones, / skinned huckleberry / bush, laurel"—to conflate the beauty of nature and life with the harsh reality of the violent crash and death. Ammons juxtaposes the bucolic beauty of nature with warfare to subtly allude to a brutal death.

The word choice of the word "laurel" evokes the idea of Ancient Greek laurels, which were used as crowns of victory and achievement. The laurel is a symbol of victory and success. However, in the context of Ammons's poem, the crash is an unfortunate accident, not a heroic victory.

Juxtaposition is when two things or ideas are put next to each other to emphasize contrast.

"Mays Landing creekshot pinecones,skinned huckleberrybush, laurelswaths define"

(14 to 18)

Irony and Consonance

A.R. Ammons uses irony to pacify the plane crash by describing it as “an unbelievably particular stop.” Ammons makes the crash seem like a casual, almost pleasant surprise in order to suggest the casual, anticlimactic nature of death. It is as if the plane just made an additional stop on its journey. However, the audience knows that this stop was fatal and not intentional because the poem is an elegy.

Elegy for a Jet Pilot, Plane Crash in Shrubs, StudySmarterFig 3: Ammons depicts the plane crash so casually that it is hard to tell that the plane has even crashed upon first reading the poem.

In the final lines of the poem, the smooth “S” sounds and the flowing repetition of the “O” sounds end to indicate this abrupt “stop.” The consonance of the “T” sounds in the words “particular” and “stop” break up the flow further. The sound of the poem being read mimics the jet’s journey from smooth soaring to breakdown. The poet mimics the sound of an engine cutting out through the sound of his words.

Irony is an expression that has an opposite or additional meaning from its literal meaning. Irony is often used for satirical or humorous effect.

Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in nearby words.

“an unbelievablyparticular stop.”

(19 to 20)

Notice that the only period, or full stop, used in the poem comes after the word “stop.” Even through the slight choices in punctuation, the poet is able to communicate that the jet’s and the pilot’s journey have come to an end.

"Elegy for a Jet Pilot": Themes

The poem "Elegy for a Jet Pilot" focuses on the themes of death and nature.

Death

The theme of death is immediately evoked by the title of the poem, as it is an “Elegy”—a remembrance of the dead. However, the theme of death is not so blatant within the poem, as there is no clear description of it. There is only the indication that it has occurred through the description of the destroyed vegetation on the ground around the plane. The reader must assume the plane has crashed when the speaker casually says the jet has made “an unbelievably / particular stop” (19 to 20).

A.R. Ammons uses this strangely subtle depiction of death to suggest that death is often not a big, dramatic, anticipated moment. Rather, it is often anticlimactic, unpredictable, and unassuming. It is a part of life, and the world goes on after it.

Nature

Nature is presented in the sky, plants, and the idea of a jet being like a bird naturally soaring in the sky. Nature brings an element of peace and beauty to the poem.

Ultimately, the jet’s crash is only understood through the description of the destroyed nature that surrounds it. The fact that the plane crashes into the countryside lends a calm beauty to the crash that further exaggerates the irony of such an abrupt, scary death.

Ammons uses the depiction of nature to subvert the reader’s expectations. He illustrates a picturesque, placid scene of a plane landing in the evening light above a creek colored by abundant, lush vegetation. The poet portrays the plane crash as a natural death, when in fact there is nothing natural about it. The man has died in a man-made machine.

Elegy for a Jet Pilot - Key takeaways

  • “Elegy for a Jet Pilot” (1972) is a 20-line poem written by American poet A.R. Ammons.
  • The poem is a modern elegy that focuses on the broader idea of death rather than expressing strong grief and fondness for a deceased individual.
  • The meaning of “Elegy for a Jet Pilot” is that death can be sudden, anticlimactic, and understated.
  • The poem features literary and poetic devices, including metaphor, enjambment, syntax, personification, sibilance, rhyme, assonance, imagery, word choice, juxtaposition, irony, and consonance.
  • The poem features the key themes of death and nature.

Frequently Asked Questions about Elegy for a Jet Pilot

The main idea of the poem "Elegy for a Jet Pilot" is that death can come about so suddenly and unexpectedly. A.R. Ammons does not even state that the plane crashes, he simply uses a description of the surrounding land to allude to what has happened.  

The meaning of "Elegy for a Jet Pilot" is that death can be sudden, anticlimactic, and understated. 

The themes of "Elegy for a Jet Pilot" are death and nature.

"Elegy for a Jet Pilot" was written in 1964. It was published in 1972 in the collection Collected Poems, 1951‐1971.

The American poet, A.R. Ammons, wrote "Elegy for a Jet Pilot."

Final Elegy for a Jet Pilot Quiz

Question

Who is the author of the poem “Elegy for a Jet Pilot”?

Show answer

Answer

A.R. Ammons

Show question

Question

What type of poem is “Elegy for a Jet Pilot”?

Show answer

Answer

Modern Elegy 

Show question

Question

What is the meaning of the poem?

Show answer

Answer

Death can be sudden, anticlimactic, and understated

Show question

Question

What are two themes found in the poem? 

Show answer

Answer

Death and nature

Show question

Question

Which of the following experiences likely influenced the poet’s writing? 

Show answer

Answer

His WWII military service

Show question

Question

What is the atmosphere of the poem? 

Show answer

Answer

Calm 

Show question

Question

The “plume” that “grows across the high-lit evening sky” refers to what? 

Show answer

Answer

The jet stream trail or contrail

Show question

Question

What is an elegy?

Show answer

Answer

A type of poem that expresses remembrance for the dead 

Show question

Question

True or False: The poet describes the Jet Pilot. 

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

In the poem, what is flight a metaphor for?

Show answer

Answer

Life 

Show question

Question

True or False: The whole poem is one sentence. 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Which of the following sound related literary devices does the poet not use? 

Show answer

Answer

Onomatopoeia 

Show question

Question

shot pinecones,
skinned huckleberry
bush, laurel” is an example of which literary device?

Show answer

Answer

Juxtaposition

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Elegy for a Jet Pilot quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.