Poetry: The Book of my Enemy — The Artificial Horizon | clivejames.com
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The Artificial Horizon

Deus gubernat navem

The artificial horizon is no false dawn
But a tool to locate you in the sky.
A line has been drawn.
If it tilts, it is you that are awry.
Trust it and not your eye.

Or trust your eye, but no further than it goes
To the artificial horizon.
Only if that froze
Would you look out for something on the level
And pray you didn’t spot it too late.
To stay straight
You can’t just follow your nose —

Except when the true horizon’s there.
But how often is that?
The sea at sunset shades into the air.
A white cloud, a night black as your hat —
What ground you glimpse might be at an angle,
While looking flat.

So the artificial horizon is a court
Of appeal, your first line of defence
And last resort:
A token world whose import is immense.

Though it seem unreal,
If it moves it can’t be broken.
Believe that it makes sense
Or else be brought up short.

The artificial horizon
Is your Dr Johnson:
It’s got its own slant.

It says clear your mind of cant.

Note (from Collected Poems)

The epigraph, an anonymous Latin motto, translates as ‘God navigates the ship.’ Even today, with all kinds of electronic instrumentation to locate the aircraft’s attitude in space, pilots are grateful to have a simple mechanical instrument to tell them, in dense cloud, whether they are still the right way up.