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.
John Gillespie Magee, Jr. 1941
Of course, since this is about the most famous aviation poem of all, there
have been a number of parodies. The following is good:
Dedicated to all Helicopter
Oh! I’ve slipped the surely bonds of earth
And hovered out of ground effect on semi-rigid blades;
Earthward I’ve auto’ed and met the rising brush
Of non-paved terrain, --and done a thousand things
You would never care to--Skidded and dropped and flared
Low in the heat soaked roar. Confined there,
I’ve chased the earthbound traffic, and lost
The race to insignificant headwinds...
Forward and up a little in ground effect
I’ve topped the General’s hedge with drooping turns
Where never Skyhawk or even Phantom flew--
Shaking and pulling collective, I’ve lumbered
The low untrespassed halls of victor airways,
Put out my hand and touched a tree.
My talent lies
This is the thing
that draws the crowd –
that on my measured list
of life skills
looking for fire
they sit outside my window
They gasp and cheer
at the sudden burst of flame.
I was born
with fingers of sulphur.
Embers glow between my toes
like jewels in pagan idols.
My feet are hot as race cars,
taking corners well,
leaning into turns,
finding the line.
I am called dangerous,
there are times
when it feels holy,
opening my palms
to the sky,
swimming back to the sun.
Lynnie Emmons 1985
There is something which goes along with the particular prestige of clouds
which makes the dragons able to ride them.
Shen Jao, 4th Century B.C.
Sing The Machine
Sing the machine,
the fleeing, blinking, humming song.
Sing the whirring flowers of steam and smoke—
follow them there…follow
over mountains (before a barrier),
over vast lands once unknown—
and into the heavens.
Follow those roaring beasts,
tamed by the empirical mind,
created by those with
sure knowledge of being.
Sing their song.
Know their symmetry.
Catch the graceful flare
of boiler rooms
and billowed sail.
Catch the turbulent prospect of new craft
and know the melancholy
of forgotten invention
aglow, rusting in the evening sun.
Sing, with jealous wonder, their skill
in molten steel, free formed,
And smell the acrid fumes
which precede the flexing, shining sheets.
Sing, with bated breath, those
who sculpt this industry.
Believe, with critical distance,
the knowledge that they share.
Hope, with suspended judgment,
the value of their vision.
And always understand
the passion of their intention.
Always respect the
price of their commitment.
disparage them for their grave errors,
lest you miss their meaning,
and then your own.
Lest you crush the slightest blade of grass
Which they, too, may have seen.
Doug Emmons 1990
Courage is the price that Life exacts
for granting peace.
The soul that knows it not
Knows no release from little things:
Knows not the livid loneliness of fear,
Nor mountain heights where bitter joy can hear
The sound of wings.
How can life grant us boon of living, compensate
For dull gray ugliness and pregnant hate
Unless we dare
The soul's dominion? Each time we make a choice, we pay
With courage to behold the resistless day
And count it fair.
The Bird Man
Up there! Up there! A speck in the sky.
Away! Away! As a cloud on high;
A whir of wheels, a spread of sail,
A flash, a blur, as a comet’s tail,
The air! The air! The wind and blow,
The peaks, the mountains and white of snow.
From South to North, a stretch of land,
‘Tis canyons deep and desert sand,
The track, the smoke and the winding trail,
A city, the meadow and haze of the grail;
The earth! The earth! Down to earth,
But a shadowy streak around its girth.
A kiss of the breeze, a sweep of the gale,
A heart and a Soul that knows not fail;
Goggles and cap and gleam of the sun,
‘Tis conquered! ‘Tis conquered! A Kingdom won;
A flash, a whirl, a ship of the sky,
Away! Away as the wild birds fly.
Come Roman and Greek and Assyrian old,
You are wrapped in death the Ages hold;
We are the Living! We are the Life!
The Century this, the battle the strife;
A speck in the blue, Up there! Up there!
‘Tis ours at last! King of the air.
Higher and higher, then sweeping low,
A whir of the wing, the sun and its glow;
The ploughman, the shepherd shall cease from toil,
The Heavens! The Heavens! Away from the soil;
The wings of the wind from Jupiter wrest,
The triumph of Man from East to the West.
More than a crown, more than gold,
More than victory--than laurels to hold;
‘Tis the Age! The Age! The conquest of Mind,
The Soul of the world in the teeth of the Wind;
A whirl, a flash and a dim speck trace,
He is off! He is off! A wild world race!
Lieutenant Fred Young
By Julius Myron Alexander
Healdsburg, CA 1910
There are a number of web sites featuring aviation poetry. To
www.notam.com/aviation/poems.html. Feel free to submit poems or sites to