When I was four years old an RAF Phantom jet crashed on our farm, less than 1/4 mile from our house. They were young, and reckless, flew too low – you can still see the scar in the mountain where their wing scraped down before the plane pinballed along and into the ground, still find tiny slivers of wreckage in the peat and the heather.
My dad built a cairn on the spot, and all year round there are sun-bleached plastic flowers and cellophane bouquet wrappers sitting at its base, worried by sheep and the wind.
At the memorial for the two pilots they read this poem. I was too young to remember, but my dad has always loved it, as a hangliding enthusiast with a passion for planes and flying. I understand it’s a poem that’s often read at aviators funerals, and it’s one of the most beautiful collections of words that I’ve ever heard. So here it is, for National Poetry Day.
High Flight – John Gillespie Magee Jr
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.