Strange, the uses and functions of poetry, and when we turn to it.
My father-in-law died last week. He had been a fighter pilot in Korea, decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross, a fine man. The family are including this poem in the order of service. Written by a World War II fighter pilot, killed in 1941, it has apparently become something of a mantra to fighter pilots.
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.
||Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee
No 412 squadron, RCAF
Killed 11 December 1941