17 September, 2006

High Flight

John Magee was born in Shanghai, China where his English mother and American father were missionaries. He was educated in England, became a US citizen and learned to fly in Ontario, Canada. He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and was sent to England before the USA had entered the war. He became a Spitfire pilot and his love of flying is abundantly obvious in this poem which makes me feel as though I were flying when I read it. It was written on the 3rd of September 1941.

High Flight by 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 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.


The poem is derivative of several earlier works by other writers but nevertheless stands up as a masterpiece of a decription of flying. Three months after writing this poem, in December 1941, he was killed in his Supermarine Spitfire in an accident over Lincolnshire, England. He was nineteen years old.

19 Comments:

Blogger Rob said...

'never have so many'.....I can't quite remember that famous quote.

Sept 3rd, by coincidence, was the day the War ended in 1945 if I remember correctly.

Theirs was a remarkable generation....my father was a bomber pilot.

Monday, September 18, 2006  
Blogger Bazza said...

Churchill again! I think it's " ...never, in the field of human endeavour, has so much been owed by so many to so few", and after that speech Battle of Britain pilots became known as 'the few'.
My father thought he had got an easy posting in the war, when he was assigned as the driver to the regimental chaplain. Then he found out that this chaplain was going to be on hand to minister to his men at the battle-front! I think your father must have been a lot braver.

Monday, September 18, 2006  
Blogger serenity said...

This poem brings to mind so much. To have compiled a poem with words such as these (even if a derivative of others) with so much depth and appreciation of experience, and before the age of 19! To have died so young, so tragically, and yet, to have lived with a spirit that could compile and appreciate words such as these...what a full and abundant life it must have been.

A United States President (Reagan) would later quote some of these words in a speech given following the space shuttle Challenger tragedy.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr. blessed us with the gift of his light-filled spirit before slipping the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God. Beautiful, Bazza. Thank you for sharing this post with us. You have blessed my day.

Peace and joy flowing to you through the miles.

Monday, September 18, 2006  
Blogger gem said...

Oh, bazza! Beautiful post. And the young man writes in iambic pentameter, just like the most recent literary hero featured. And he writes well in iambic pentameter, too. That gives me an idea for my blog. Thanks, bazza. BTW, where does the name bazza come from?

Monday, September 18, 2006  
Blogger Bazza said...

serenity: Yes, I do recall now Reagan quoting that poem at the time. Thank you for reminding me of that. Magee had been accepted for Yale but declined in order to volunteer for duty. They don't make 'em like that anymore.

gem: Iambic pentameter must appeal to some inner pulse or rhythm within, because I am often drawn towards poems in that style.
'Bazza' is a fairly common UK 'street' version of my real name - Barry!

Monday, September 18, 2006  
Blogger gem said...

Thanks for the explanation. Very cool!

Monday, September 18, 2006  
Blogger jim said...

Bazza, John MaGee, Jr, is a jewel, high in the crown of God, I bet. A fine poem and a fine young man. Few, indeed!

My real name comes from a Fighter Pilot who was killed toward the end of the war, I never knew him, yet I feel I do, maybe thru this man.

A really fine Post, Bazza.

Monday, September 18, 2006  
Blogger Deepak Gopi said...

Hello Sir;
Hats off to this great man

Tuesday, September 19, 2006  
Blogger Bazza said...

jim: Nicely put comment and an interesting story. Thanks.

deepak: You're still calling me sir! 'Hats off'; what a lovely old-fashioned expression. Thank you for commenting.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006  
Blogger Mimi Lenox said...

Bazza....What an amazing young man and beautiful poem. Thanks for sharing.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006  
Blogger slaghammer said...

Imagine a world where those countless millions of bright minds and brave souls had made their mark on civilization beyond their short lives and violent deaths.
Alongside unspeakable carnage and incalculable suffering, cultural advancements that never occur are among the greatest losses to humanity. It is a crying shame.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006  
Blogger Bazza said...

mimi: It's always a pleasure to have you visit and comment!

slaghammer: That's really rather beautifully put. For the first two years of the First World War all the British (and commonwealth)soldiers were volunteers; the cream of a generation was wiped out before consciption started. Then a whole generation was destroyed.
The irony is that technology advances at a phenominal rate in wartime and some of the greatest 20th century poetry was written in the first war.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006  
Blogger Raj said...

Beautiful post Mr. Bazza. He died so young but still he lived such a meaningful life. The beautiful poem shows how much he loved flying and its only ironic that he died while flying. I'm sure his parents must have been a very proud of him.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006  
Blogger bethany said...

Its a shame he died. Many soldiers wrote peotry, and even when you read letters written home to loved ones, the power of words, and the way they describe things is truly amazing. such a sad time for all invloved.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your compliments on my blog! Keep on bloggin' on!

Nate
http://nateisablog.blogspot.com

Wednesday, September 20, 2006  
Blogger Bazza said...

raj: Yes, you're right his death was ironic. He was a remarkable person.

bethany: Hi, I took a look at your blog. You've got some great animal pictures there! Thanks for visiting.

nate: Thank you too Nate; your blog is really funny.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006  
Blogger jim said...

Yeah Bazza, Nate's blog is really funny, I will have to check out his others. He is pretty good. Thanks.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006  
Blogger Reeholio said...

Hi Bazza,

I just clicked here via Gale's blog.

Being in a job where my predecessors were amongst 'the few', it always makes me proud to follow in the their footsteps. (How's that for cryptic?! I have to be careful about what I say about my job on the internet ;) )

I love this poem. Often, when I am up amongst the clouds, I think of this eloquent poem.

Thanks for sharing it with the bloggersphere.

Regards, Rhys

Sunday, September 24, 2006  
Blogger Bazza said...

Hi Rhys, I am familiar with your blogs (through Gales!) although, as yet, I have not commented.
I can see how, as a pilot, this poem would resonate with you.
Thanks for visiting.

Sunday, September 24, 2006  

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