Saturday, January 29, 2005


High Flight

I was reminded of the terrible tragedy nineteen years ago, the destruction shortly after take off of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

President Reagan went on the TV that evening to pay tribute and said, in part

"We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them this morning as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God."

President Reagan possessed the stature to deliver a eulogy for such brave people. I always wondered, though, about the phrase he used, "to touch the face of God."

Now, thanks to the miracle of Google, I have discovered its source. It is from a poem written by Pilot Officer John G. Magee, Jr., an American serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). On December 11, 1941, Pilot Officer Magee died in combat when his Spitfire crashed over Southern England. He was just nineteen years old.

The poem is called "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 even 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.

Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

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