Monday, September 1, 2008


With thanks to poet Cantara Christopher for bringing this to my attention.

John Gillespie Magee, Junior (June 9, 1922 – December 11, 1941)was an Anglo-American aviator and poet who died as a result of a mid-air collision over Lincolnshire during World War II. He was serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force, which he joined before the United States officially entered the war. He is undoubtedly most famous for his poem High Flight.

He received flight training in Ontario at Toronto, Trenton, St. Catharines, and Uplands and passed his Wings Test in June 1941. He was sent to Britain initially to No. 53 Operational Training Unit (OTU) in RAF Llandow, Walesto train on the Supermarine Spitfire later that year and then to the newly formed No 412 (Fighter) Squadron, RCAF,[1] which was activated at RAF Digby, England, on 30 June 1941. The motto of this squadron was and is Promptus ad vindictam (Latin: "Swift to avenge"). Magee was qualified on and flew the Supermarine Spitfire.

Magee was killed at the age of 19, whilst flying Spitfire VZ-H, serial number AD-291. The aircraft was involved in a mid-air collision with an Airspeed Oxford trainer from RAF Cranwell, flown by Leading Aircraftman Ernest Aubrey. The two aircraft collided in cloud cover at about 400 feet AGL, at 11:30, over the village of Roxholm which lies between RAF Cranwell and RAF Digby, in Lincolnshire. Magee was descending at the time. At the inquiry afterwards a farmer testified that he saw the Spitfire pilot struggling to push back the canopy. The pilot stood up to jump from the plane but was too close to the ground for his parachute to open, and died on impact. Magee is buried at Holy Cross, Scopwick Cemetery in Lincolnshire, England.

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 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 starts at the 2:30 mark


Cantara said...

Thanks for the mention! I posted the entire "High Flight" in my blog because of its recent placement in the AMC series Mad Men, which is set in the early 1960s when this poem was the most memorable TV end-of-programming-day signoff piece.

I'm not a poet, but my literary press Cantarabooks and my literary magazine Cantaraville do publish poetry, most notably Claptrap: Notes from Hollywood, the first collection by film-TV director Stephen Gyllenhaal.

Always On Watch said...

I have a vague memory of having heard that sonnet before.

Thanks for jogging my memory and posting that beautiful video.