"High Flight" by John Gillespie MacGee, Jr.

Pilot Officer John G. Magee Jr. (U.S. Air Force photo)

When I was boy growing up in the 1960s and early 1970s, I’d sometimes stay up too late watching television. I’d usually fall asleep during some movie classic, then wake up just as the station was about to sign off.

I remember the clip below, a devotional of sorts, being shown just before the test pattern would appear. The poem has stayed with me over the years. When I found myself quoting part of it to my family just before Christmas, I decided to do some research.

It turns out that John Gillespie Magee, Jr., a World War II Royal Canadian Air Force pilot, wrote the sonnet “High Flight” while training in England in 1941. He died tragically, less than four months later in a mid-air plane crash. He was only 19.

Here is his sonnet:

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’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Such sentiments are not commonly expressed these days. Let me know if you remember the film clip from your childhood.

2 thoughts on “"High Flight" by John Gillespie MacGee, Jr.

  1. Natalie December 31, 2014 / 10:15 pm

    I don't remember ever seeing the clip, but I do remember this poem. I love this poem. I always have but never really knew the story behind it or where it came from. His words actually inspired me to pen my own poem many, many years ago in my youth. Thank you for sharing this.


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