John Gillespie Magee

(9 June 1922 – 11 December 1941 / Shanghai)

John Gillespie Magee
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John Gillespie Magee, Jr. was an American aviator and poet who died as a result of a mid-air collision over Lincolnshire during World War II. He was serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force, which he joined before the United States officially entered the war. He is most famous for his poem "High Flight."

Early Life

John Gillespie Magee, Jr. was born in Shanghai, China, to an American father and a British mother who worked as Anglican missionaries. His father, John Magee Senior, was from a family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania of some wealth and influence—there is the Pittsburgh Magee Hospital and the Magee Building. Magee Senior, disregarding family wealth, chose to ... more »

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Quotations

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  • Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
    And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings ...
    And while with silent lifting mind I've trod
    The high, untrespassed sanctity of sp...
    John Gillespie Magee (c. 1922-1941), U.S.-born pilot with Royal Canadian Air Force. High Flight (written 1941). first and last lines of the sonnet...
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  • W. Glasser (3/12/2013 2:44:00 PM)

    Additionally, while an American pilot, he was not American-born. He was born in Shanghai, which again, is noted on this page elsewhere. High Flight, in its entirety, is as follows:

    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.

    An alternate version reads:
    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. Hovering 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.

    Additionally, his epitaph is taken from High Flight:
    Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth –
    Put out my hand and touched the Face of God.

  • W. Glasser (3/12/2013 2:33:00 PM)

    The sonnet quotation is taken from the fuller version of high flight. The italics also identify his place and cause of death erroneously; he was not on a bombing raid over Germany, but instead in an accidental collision over Lincolnshire, England. The biography states so itself, but the quote is wrong in those two respects.

  • Margaret Lozonne (10/30/2008 12:46:00 PM)

    I am still waiting for your answer to my questions dated 10-28-08 on why there is a difference between the poem I have & the one you have on 'High Flight' by
    John Gillespie Magee.

    Thanks, Margaret

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