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High Flight

In 1939 Americans eager to fight against Axis tyranny had no recourse but to enlist in the services of those nations actively engaged in war. One such American was John Gillespie Magee, Jr. who became a Royal Canadian Air Force Lieutenant in 1940.

Magee flew the incomparable Spitfire and the exhilaration of its flight inspired him to pen the following lines.


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 throught 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.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr.


On 11 December 1941, Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr. was killed when he collided in clouds with an Oxford from Cranwell. Magee arrived from 53 O.T.U. to join the 412 Squadron at Digby on 23 September 1941. An American citizen, he was born of missionary parents in Shanghai, was educated at Rugby and brought to the United States in 1939. The next year, at the age of 18, he turned down a scholarship from Yale University to come to Canada and join the RCAF.

Pilot Officer Magee had recently returned from a high-level flying course at Farnborough. There he received the inspiration for his poem and scribbled it on the back of a letter to his mother. The poem, "High Flight," expressing the feelings that must have been felt by so many of Magee's comrades, has become one of the most highly quoted poems.

Canadian Department of National Defense

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