A Poem About Flight
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.
In the days of the Battle of Britain, with German forces seemingly on the verge of victory on all fronts, hundreds of Americans moved to Canada and volunteered to enlist with the Royal Canadian Forces, breaking the law but with the silent consent of a still officially neutral United States.
One of these Americans was John Gillespie Magee, Jr., born in Shanghai, China, in 1922 to an English mother and a Scotch-Irish-American father.
Joining the Canadian Air Force at the age of 18, John was sent to England just a year afterwards, to fly the Supermarine Spitfire in the newly-formed 412th Fighter Squadron.
During a test flight in September 1941, he reached an altitude of 30.000ft (about 10km), were he was inspired to write a poem about flying.
That poem, "High Flight", he then sent to his parents, with the attached note that "It started at 30,000 feet, and was finished soon after I landed."
Only three months later, John died during a mid-air collision with a trainer over the village of Roxholm, at the age of 19.
His poem became probably the most famous ever written about flying.