Personal Choice 48
for HP, friend and colleague who first showed me this delightful poem some years ago
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew-
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
John Gillespie Magee
John Gillespie Magee Jr. (1922 - 1941) was a World War II Anglo-American Royal Canadian Air Force fighter pilot and war poet, who wrote the sonnet High Flight. He was killed in an accidental mid-air collision over England in 1941.
High Flight is sonnet written by war poet John Gillespie Magee Jr. and inspired by his experiences as a fighter pilot of the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II. Magee began writing High Flight on 18 August, while stationed at No. 53 OTU outside London, and mailed a completed manuscript to his family on 3 September—just a few months before his death in a training accident. Originally published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, it was widely distributed when Magee became one of the first post-Pearl Harbor American casualties of the war on 11 December. The poem's gleeful and ethereal portrayal of aviation (along with its allegorical interpretation of death and transcendence) made it a fitting memorial for its author, and it was exhibited at the American Library of Congress in 1942. Since then, it has been featured prominently in aviation memorials across the world, including that of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.
When I was a child, my parents took us on a driving and camping holiday to Sydney. While we were there my father paid for my brother and I to take a helicopter flight over the city and surrounding countryside for the sum of 15 shillings. The pilot was a very young Robbie Ansett the son of the famous Reg. who owned the airline company. Whenever I read Magee’s exhilarating sonnet, I am reminded of that thrilling flight when as a very young boy I experienced something of his own ‘delirious’ experience.