Friday, February 02, 2007

High Flight

Today I came across this poem in a thread elsewhere.

High Flight

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.
I have read it several times over the years, and flown on the back of its absolute joy, that sense of being alive that we experience sometimes, but which I for one can't describe without suffocating it in words. (If you've been here before, you know this!) John Magee caught it perfectly.

However, reading down the thread, to discover that this pilot was only nineteen when he died (in a training accident), shocked me; cutting through all the insulation I have assembled to deal with the realities of the nightly news. I sat here with tears streaming.

Perhaps we're never so consciously alive, with our future at our feet, as when we're eighteen or nineteen. Not since we cut our first tooth, said our first word, took our first step, have we so encapsulated the hopes, dreams and pride of those who love us.

Gone in a minute.

John Magee's poem took me to John Magee's parents, holding their boy's poem written on the back of an envelope, knowing there would never be another one; and to all the other parents I've seen crying on the nightly news, whether howling in agony outside a mortuary, quietly accepting their country's flag, or staring blankly into the camera in what's left of a wherever they used to live.

It's a shame the human race has such a powerful urge to kill for what it wants. And such a readiness to die for its beliefs. I wish I had a magical solution to offer as a coda to this sad entry, but as far as I can see, it's often the magical solutions (Let's do it My Way!) that lead to the worst bloodshed.

Instead, here's John Magee's sonnet on the burial of Rupert Brooke, in 1915.

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...
There daylight, as a dust, slips through the trees.
And drifting, gilds the fern around his grave —
Where even now, perhaps, the evening breeze
Steals shyly past the tomb of him who gave
New sight to blinded eyes; who sometimes wept —
A short time dearly loved; and after, — slept.

No comments: