From today’s Writer’s Almanac:
Today is the birthday of the man who wrote the most famous inspirational poem about aviation — a sonnet about aviation — John Gillespie Magee Jr., born in Shanghai, China, in 1922, the son of missionaries. He was an American, but like thousands of other young Americans he served with the Royal Canadian Air Force before the United States officially entered WWII. He had a scholarship to Yale, but after high school he enlisted in the air force, and he was sent to combat duty in England. A month or maybe two months later, he wrote a sonnet, “High Flight,” and sent it to his parents on the back of a letter, saying “I am enclosing a verse I wrote the other day. It started at 30,000 feet, and was finished soon after I landed.” Three months later, the U.S. entered the war, and just three days after that Magee died in a plane crash. The sonnet was widely copied and distributed, and it is still referenced in novels, television shows, and political speeches. All first-year cadets at the United States Air Force Academy are required to memorize and recite it.
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, nor 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.
“High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr., Public Domain.