Salena Godden on how our ancient dreams of the impossible became today’s realities and prove that ‘Pessimism is for Leightweights’

It was 1488 when Leonardo Da Vinci was sketching flying machines in his studios in Milan. But before Leonardo, early humans must have also always dreamed of flying. They must have sat in awe and observed butterflies, hummingbirds and eagles. These dreamers lay under the moon and stars and looked up and dreamed up visions of man in flight, they must have closed their eyes and imagined soaring through the night sky.

Imagine them now, how they jumped out of trees with their outstretched arms tied to branches, leaves, feathers or skins. How they were filled with wonder, a pure wonder, aroused with a curiosity of not just how to get up there, but how to stay up there.

Those first flying machines were not made to drop bombs

People must have always had dreams of flying, just as we do now, dreams of swooping, loop the looping, through the big blue sky. Of being high above earth and looking down on jungles, mountains and oceans, grand temples and mighty pyramids. They hoped that one day they would sail through the magnificent heavens and up through the milky stars.

Imagine that, they might have said, imagine observing mankind from heaven as gods. They must have said, hey, imagine how we would look from up there? Imagine our cities and fires and carnivals and feasts and fiesta and battles from above. From the sky we would look like a swarm of ants festering on a hot apple.

People jumped off cliffs and died on rocks and splatted into walls

I have been googling amazing pictures of the first courageous attempts at flight – A man in a boat in the sky rowing through the air. An automobile with wings. A flying bird-man cycling off a cliff complete with beak. And the famous Leonardo da Vinci original sketches of flying machines, his visions of flight. He dreamed of such absurd magic and miracles.

Humans tried and failed again. What courage they had, they crashed and burned. People jumped off cliffs and died on rocks and splatted into walls. Yet they kept finding the courage to fail again.

I imagine they said, Roll up! Roll up! Watch me! I will fly! I am a human eagle! As they smashed and crashed into walls and off cliffs. Imagine the look in their eyes as they jumped: Pure courage. Pure conviction. Pure hope. Pure belief. Pure fear. Pure panic. Pure joy.


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They must have been so glad to just get off the solid ground and stay air-born, how exciting that must have been. But that first ingenious plane, or mechanical bird, was not made to kill. Those first flying machines were not made to drop bombs on hospitals and schools and churches and temples, or intended to kill children and the sick, the elderly and the poor. It was not a bird of war that the first dreamer dreamed. I don’t think war was in the first dreams, not at first, war was not in the very first dreams of flying. In the first dreams of flying it must have been just about … flying.

dream bigger, dream bolder, dream a better world and dream on!

It is bizarre to me how undervalued those with creativity are. How libraries are closed down and arts funding is cut for creative development when we need to work together now more than ever, for our local communities, for our children, and for our survival.

Maybe humans would not have anything, and certainly not planes, if someone fearless didn’t have the dream first – The dream of flying. The dream of freedom. The dream of a better world. The dream of peace. The dream of equality. The dream of survival. Dreaming is important. You dream your dreams and you choose.

When someone tells you something is impossible, maybe think of this. Because everything starts with a dream, every single thing begins with dreaming a little dream. And if not you, then who? If not now, then when? To dream is courageous. To follow your dream and do it your way is courageous. To hold onto your dream despite everything, well, that’s the dream, so dream on my midsummers dreamers, dream bigger, dream bolder, dream a better world and dream on! Let’s all meet at Byline Festival in August, a field packed with thinkers and drinkers, human beings and human do’ers and big dreamers! Courage is a muscle.

Salena Godden is the poet laureate for Byline Festival, latest work ‘Pessimism Is For Lightweights, 13 pieces of courage and resistance’ is published by Rough Trade Books

Come to see Salena at Byline Festival

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