High Flight

I suppose I’m a relative latecomer to poetry having only started to appreciate it in the last couple of years. I don’t recall ever reading poetry at school, and, perhaps unconventionally, it was the use of poetry in films that piqued my interest.

This was followed by finding a book of The Nation’s Favourite Poems at a relatives house over Christmas which made me realise that I was aware of more poetry than I realised, and also that poetry was more accessible than I had previously thought.

High Flight by John Magee has quickly become a favourite of mine. I had always thought that it was much older than it actually is, and that it was more metaphorical in its view of flight. I was surprised and delighted to find that it was written by a WW2 fighter pilot about his love of flying.

It’s a wonderfully eloquent description of the joy flying brought him; made tragic when you learn that he died shortly after writing it – it was in the last letter his parents received from him.

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 untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Pilot Office John Gillespie Magee
No 412 squadron, RCAF
Killed 11 December 1941