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 nor 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.
This wonderful poen written by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. (June 9, 1922 – December 11, 1941) has some origins here in DC. Magee wrote the poem while serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force, which he joined before the United States officially entered the war. He wrote the poem in August of 1941, while he was based at an airbase in Llandow, Wales. He had flown up to 33,000 feet in a Spitfire Mk I and as he orbited and climbed upward, he was struck with the inspiration of a poem—"To touch the face of God." He completed the poem later that day after landing. He send a copy of the work to his parents.
His father, then curate of Saint John's Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, reprinted it in church publications. The poem became more widely known through the efforts of Archibald McLeish, then Librarian of Congress, who included it in an exhibition of poems called 'Faith and Freedom' at the Library of Congress in February 1942. The manuscript copy of the poem remains at the Library of Congress. Several months later, Magee was killed at the age of 19, in a mid-air collision