The poem was written by a young fighter pilot during World War II. Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee Jr was an American citizen who was born of missionary parents in Shanghai and educated in Britain's famed Rugby School.
|Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee Jr.|
He went to the United States in 1939, and at the age of 18, won a scholarship to Yale. Like other Americans of the time who wished to aid in the cause of freedom, he decided to enlist in the services of a nation actively engaged in war.
Magee enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in September 1940. He served overseas with an RCAF Spitfire Squadron until his death on active service in December, 1941.
His poem, composed in September 1941, was scribbled on the back of a letter which he mailed to his mother in Washington. Pilot Officer Magee was killed a few months later when his Spitfire plane collided with a bomber-pilot trainer on approach to the airport over Lincolnshire, England. He was 19 years old.
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 silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.