High Flight Poem Poster
B292 High Flight (Poem)
During the dark days of the
Blitz, John Gillespie Magee, Jr., was one of the many
Americans who enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Within a year, he was sent to England and assigned to the
No. 412 Fighter Squadron, RCAF, where he flew the
Supermarine Spitfire. On September 3, 1941, he flew a high
altitude test flight in a new model of the Spitfire V. As he
climbed upward through 33,000 feet, he experienced great
exhilaration, which inspired his immortal line, "to touch
the face of God". He later expanded it into a poem.
Three months later, he was killed in a midair collision.
He was only 19 years old. Although young John Magee was
lost, he had sent a copy of his poem to his father, who was
then rector of a Washington, DC church. His father printed
it in church publications. This led to its inclusion in an
exhibition of poems called Faith and Freedom at the
Library of Congress in February 1942.
High Flight has since become the most famous
aviation poem ever written. It has inspired countless
aviators and astronauts. It is the subject of a special
exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Air
Force in Dayton, Ohio. U.S. Air Force Academy cadets are
required to memorize it.
The poster magnificently depicts his Spitfire climbing
toward the peak of its exciting flight, and cites the full
text of his ageless and classic poem. A caption, located in
the lower left corner, tells the story behind it.
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 windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God