American John Magee, who served with the Royal Canadian Air Force, was 19 when he wrote High Flight in August 1941. It is 75 years since then. I made a report about him (and the poem) in 2007 for BBC TV. 33 years later another pilot my father died in a plane he was flying. I made a BBC documentary about him called Internal Flight.
They are unified by the poem High Flight which was found on the back of an envelope after Magee had passed. Fighters in the 2nd World War often wrote a letter to their family in case of their death. The first line of this poem could prove that Magee decided on a poem instead. It is a poem that celebrates life which is why I’d love to share it with you on this day.
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.
Beautiful isn’t it – High Flight. The great Irish poet W.B. Yeats wrote another amazing poem. Very different to Magee. An Irishman Forsees His Death.