HIGH FLIGHT

This Spitfire Mk 2A, now owned by the Battle o...

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YESTERDAY, SPEAKING ABOUT CONTEMPLATION, I quoted from 19 year old Pilot Officer John Magee’s poem High Flight. Some have kindly enquired after the full text which is set down hereunder. John Magee flew a high altitude (30,000 feet) test flight in a newer model of the Spitfire V, on 3rd September 1941. As he orbited and climbed upward, he was struck with the inspiration of a poem — “To touch the face of God.” Once back on the ground, he wrote a letter to his parents. In it he commented, “I am enclosing a verse I wrote the other day. It started at 30,000 feet, and was finished soon after I landed.” On the back of the letter, he jotted down his poem, ‘High Flight’. Only three months later, on 11th December 1941, Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee died.

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, Jr

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