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.
John Gillespie Magee, Jr., 1922-1941
In September 1941, in the darkest days of the war, Pilot Officer John Magee made a test flight of the new model of the Spitfire. Once back on the ground he wrote a letter to his parents, saying he had started the poem at 30,000 feet and finished it soon after he landed. He was killed just three months later.