John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
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 windswept 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.
John Gillespie McGee, Jr., an American/British fighter pilot born in 1922, flew with the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II. He came to Britain, flew in a Spitfire squadron, and was killed at age 19 on December 11, 1941, during a training flight from the airfield near Scopwick, Lincolnshire. The poem was written on the back of a letter to his parents which stated, “I am enclosing a verse I wrote the other day. It started at 30,000 feet, and was finished soon after I landed.”