Inspiration in World War II, 1941: To Touch the Face of God

I’ve recently returned from a remarkable Memorial Day trip to Washington, D.C.  What an honor, to honor our Veterans.  This is a beautiful, inspired poem from a soldier during WWII, who should be recognized for his service to our country. The poem was also quoted by Ronald Reagan during the Challenger disaster in 1982, when seven people’s lives were lost in a space shuttle explosion.

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, or 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.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr. (1922 – 1941) was an American aviator and poet who died as a result of a mid-air collision over Lincolnshire during World War Two. He was serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force, which he joined before the United States officially entered the war. “High Flight” is his most famous poem. The poem was written on August 18, 1941, just a few months before his death. When he orbited and climbed up to 33,000 feet in a Spitfire MK I, the inspiration of “To touch the face of God” struck him. He completed the poem later that day after landing.

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