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Wednesday, December 11, 2013


"I am enclosing a verse I wrote the other day. It started at 30,000 feet, and was finished soon after I landed."

John Gillespie Magee Jr. died on this day in 1941, one of the first American casualties after the U. S. entered WWII.

The verse enclosed with his letter to his parents the previous September is the famous “High Flight,”

which Magee began to compose while test-flying a Spitfire V:

"…Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever 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."

Born in Shanghai, China in 1922 to an American father and a British mother who worked as Anglican missionaries.

John began his education at the American School, Nanking (1929–1931).

In 1931 he moved with his mother to Britain where he continued his education first at St Clare preparatory school near Walmer, Kent (1931–1935).

He was educated at Rugby School from 1935 to 1939. Magee developed his poetry whilst at the school, and in 1938 won the school's Poetry Prize.

He was deeply moved by the roll of honour of Rugby pupils who had fallen in the First World War.

This list of the fallen included the celebrated war poet Rupert Brooke (1887–1915),

whose work Magee greatly admired and who had also won the school poetry prize 34 years prior to Magee.

The poem refers to Brooke's burial, at 11 o'clock at night in an olive grove on the island of Skyros in Greece:

Sonnet to Rupert Brooke
"We laid him in a cool and shadowed grove
One evening in the dreamy scent of thyme
Where leaves were green, and whispered high above —
A grave as humble as it was sublime;
There, dreaming in the fading deeps of light —
The hands that thrilled to touch a woman's hair;
Brown eyes, that loved the Day, and looked on Night,
A soul that found at last its answered Prayer...
While at Rugby, Magee met and fell in love with Elinor, the daughter of Headmaster P. H. B. Lyon.

Elinor Lyon was the inspiration for many of John's poems.

Though Magee's love was not returned, he remained friends with Elinor and her family through to the end of his life.

Sometimes the magic thrives in barren soil.



  1. Lovely words about a flying experience I can only imagine.

  2. Susan:
    I used to go to bed with a similar sign off when I was a child. His life's magic still touches hearts.