Famed WWII poet Pilot Officer John Magee (far right) with his
fellow pilot trainees: l-r: Fred Heather, Tom Gain, Duncan
Fowler, at #9 Elementary Flying Training School, Royal
Canadian Air Force Station St. Catharines, Ontario,
Canada, Feb. 5, 1941.
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 even eagle flew — And, while with silent lifting mind I have trod The high un-trespassed sanctity of space, - Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
HIGH FLIGHT remains the most evocative poem of the
Second World War, which has become the most famous
flying poem of all time. It was written by John Magee
in 1943, during his service as a Pilot Officer, Royal
Canadian Air Force
The son of an American father and an English mother,
Anglican missionaries, Magee was born in China in 1921,
and was educated in Britain and the USA. Though he
earned a scholarship to Yale University, Magee chose
instead to volunteer for service with the Royal
Canadian Air Force in September, 1940.
After training as a fighter-pilot, he was posted to
Britain, where he joined a Spitfire squadron.
The exhilaration of flying an aircraft inspired him to
write "High Flight" on September 3, 1941. Only three
months later, at the age of 19, John Magee was killed
when his Spitfire collided with a training aircraft.
His grave is in Holy Cross Cemetery, Scopwick,