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John Gillespie Magee Jr. (1922-1941)

High Flight


              1Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
              2And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
              3Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
              4of sun-split clouds, -- and done a hundred things
              5You have not dreamed of -- wheeled and soared and swung
              6High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
              7I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
              8My eager craft through footless halls of air ....

              9Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
            10I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
            11Where never lark nor ever eagle flew --
            12And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
            13The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
            14Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Notes

1] "The reprintings vary in punctuation, capitalization, and indentation from the original manuscript, which is in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. Some portions are faded and difficult to read, but ... [this] version ... follows Magee's as exactly as can be made out, following his pencilled note on another poem, "If anyone should want this please see that it is accurately copied, capitalized, and punctuated." Nearly all versions use `... even eagle,' but to the editor's careful scrutiny, it was `ever,' formed exactly like the preceding `never'" (Respectfully Quoted, 118).

2] Evidently borrowed from G. W. M. Dunn's "New World": "With zest we soar on laughter-silvered wings / From fevered ways, panic and petty deeds", as published in Icarus: An Anthology of the Poetry of Flight, ed. Rupert De la Bčre (London: Macmillan, 1938). Courtesy of Tony French, who reports this and other conscious or unconscious debts in his note, "Magee: The Plagiarist Poet?", Pilot (March 1997): 90.

13] Indebted to a line in "Dominion over Air" by C. A. F. B.: "Across the unpierced sanctity of space" (published in Icarus; note courtesy of Tony French).

14] Magee's most famous line, indebted to two lines in "The Blind Man Flies" by Cuthbert Hicks: "For I have danced the streets of heaven, / And touched the face of God" (published in Icarus; note courtesy of Tony French).


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Magee's poem in effect entered the public domain shortly after his death because it was very widely printed during and after the war.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations Requested from the Congrssional Research Service, ed. Suzy Platt (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1989): 117-18.
First publication date: 1941
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2002
Recent editing: 1:2002/10/13*1:2003/11/10

Composition date: 3 September 1941
Form: sonnet
Form note: ababcdcd efegfg


Other poems by John Gillespie Magee Jr.