Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr. was an American serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Born in Shanghai, China in 1922 to missionary parents, he came to the U.S. in 1939 and earned a scholarship to Yale, but in September 1940 he enlisted in the RCAF and was graduated as a pilot. He was sent to England for combat duty in July 1941. In August or September of that year, he composed the well-known poem “High Flight” and sent a copy to his parents. On December 11, 1941 his Spitfire collided with another plane over England and Magee, only 19 years of age, crashed to his death. The poem has become known as an aviator’s anthem, and has become an oft-quoted text but somehow I was struck with the urge to tamper with it. My apologies to the estate.
Oh! I have slipped the surly church on earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Godward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of un-split talk – 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 soul through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with precious grace
As never scribe, or even pastor knew –
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.