Thursday, June 02, 2011

High Flight


I have been trying, largely in vain, to read more poetry this year. I recently came across this poem, High Flight, written by American aviator and poet John Magee. Apparently Magee's famous closing line, "put out my hand and touched the face of God" was largely influenced, (read: copied) from a poem entitled A Blind Man Flies by Cuthbert Hicks. I have posted both poems below.

By way of post-script, Magee died at the age of 19 (ie very young, but old enough to be described as "an aviator") when his spitfire collided with an RAF plane over Lincolnshire. He is buried in Scopwick and on his grave is inscribed the first and last lines of his poem:

"Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
- Put out my hand, and touched the face of God."


I visited Duxford airfields with Bram a couple of years ago and was fortunate enough to see the rare sight of 7 Spitfire planes flying in formation. It was magnificent! (It seems like only last year but it was in fact 2009!).

As 6 June rolls around for another year, I can't help but think of times spent at Bram's house in Schoten, some very inebriated, some less so, but always good fun! I can remember Till and Kiki (now Mrs Zimmermann!) driving all the way form Germany with the German flag jammed in the window of their car in preparation for the upcoming World Cup. I can remember David Gault tending to the BBQ and his SLR camera in between shots at the wicker Korfball basket. I can remember Bram's brother Jasper (who possesses possibly the coolest name on earth) describing the taste of different Belgian beers with the same fervour for detail as a champagne maker from Reims. There are lots of things I can't remember, and to be honest, that's probably for the best, but Bram, this post goes out to you my friend. Happy Birthday! Wish I could be with you!

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 have trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
- Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.


The Blind Man Flies

I am blind: I have never seen
Sun gold nor silver moon,
Nor the fairy faces of flowers,
Nor the radiant noon.

They speak of the dawn and the dusk,
And the smile of a child,
Of the deep red heart of a rose,
As of God, undefiled.

But I learnt from the air to-day
(On a bird’s wings I flew)
That the earth could never contain
All of the God I knew.

I felt the blue mantle of space,
And kissed the cloud's white hem,
I heard the stars’ majestic choir,
And sang my praise with them.

Now joy is mine through my long night,
I do not feel the rod,
For I have danced the streets of heaven,
And touched the face of God.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi James, thanks for teaching us law

Paule said...

Beautiful reading, James. Nothing better for the start of day.

Anonymous said...

It is very helpful!