18 August 1941: “High Flight”

The original manuscript of “High Flight,” by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., Royal Canadian Air Force, in the collection of the Library of Congress. (Manuscript Division: John Magee Papers 1941–1946). LCCN: mm 79005423

18 August 1941: Many sources give this as the date on which Pilot Officer John Gillespie, Jr., Royal Canadian Air Force, wrote—or began writing—his famous poem, “High Flight.”

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 ever 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.

Magee mailed the poem to his parents on 3 September 1941.

John Magee was an American serving as a fighter pilot in England before the United States entered World War II. He was killed when his Supermarine Spitfire collided with another airplane in clouds over the village of Roxholm, Lincolnshire, England.

He was only 19 years old.

“On Laughter-Silvered Wings,” by Keith Ferris, 1995. © by the artist. The original of this painting, depicting John Gillespie Magee’s Supermarine Spitfire, is on loan to the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, College Station, Texas.
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