Too often I am tempted to marry a favorite poem, passage or quote to my images without ever really knowing anything about its origin or the heart from where it came. Lately, I've made it a point to learn a little about the life of the person behind the writing. To dig into the story of their life... what drove them, what they found inspiring, what moved them. Maybe because I would want someone to do the same for me... should they find themselves touched by something I've written.
John Gillespie Magee Jr. was the oldest of four boys, born in the 1920's to missionaries in China. He developed his love for poetry while attending school in Britain and was highly influenced by the war poet, Rupert Brooke, for whom he later wrote a sonnet in tribute. Magee fell in love with the daughter of the headmaster at his school and she was the inspiration for much of his work. Though his love was unrequited, they remained friends for the rest of his life. He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940, trained on, and later flew.. the Spitfire. It was during this time, that he wrote a sonnet I have always loved. He died tragically, at the young age of 19 in a mid air collision in which he struggled to open the canopy, and subsequently his parachute, before hitting the ground. He is most famous for this poem titled "High Flight," for which the first and last lines are inscribed on his gravestone at Holy Cross Cemetery in England.
Magee wrote "High Flight" on the back of a letter he sent to his parents. Today, that original manuscript can be found in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.
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 windswept 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.
- John Gillespie Magee Jr.
"You're an interesting species. An interesting mix. You're capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you're not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other...."