This is probably the best poem about aviation ever written. It truly captures the sheer joy of flight and even the spiritual element of it like few others ever have. Colin Pearce recounts this poem while at altitude in “The Cabo Contract.” It gives him an uncommanded lump in his throat as he thinks about it. It has the same effect on me.
By John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
“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 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.”
This poem was printed on one of our cadet desk calendars at the USAF Academy while I was a junior there. I liked it so much I tore the page out and pinned it to my bulletin board. When it came time for my second lieutenant pin-on ceremony just after midnight on June 2, 1982, I used it as my favorite quote. Still love it.
By Jeffrey Allan Moore
I was born to live, fast and furious;
I am destined to die, swift and glorious.
For mine is the life of the sword.
And when I die,
There will be no regret in my heart;
And a smile on my lips.
By Marshall Lefavor
I dwell in space so foreign
That even though you stare at it
You will never taste it.
While you are simpering over your greasy eggs,
I am climbing out at a hundred percent, in burner,
Nose boring through the cold, blue-black sky.
While you shave, I make the sun rise and set again
With a touch of my gloved fist on the stick.
I can’t see you down there, locked inexorably in the twisting
mosaic beneath my wings.
You can’t see me up here; you don’t tread among the gods.
This is a closed shop. Only those who hack it are allowed.
And even those who dare had better press it;
For my purpose transcends aesthetics,
I’m here to flame something.
When I am on the ground–reluctantly–
I seek the company of others who have lived beyond the edge.
If I seem aloof and haughty,
Call it: Honest arrogance…”
Here’s a quote from Ernest K. Gann, one of the greatest aviation writers of all time from his book, “Flying Circus.” It so describes a crucial difference between those who love the sky, airmen, and those who merely trespass there, pilots. In my 30 plus years of aviation, I’ve met both. The airman says, “Being a pilot is what I am,” the pilot says, “being a pilot is what I do.” There’s a crucial difference.
“There are airmen and there are pilots: the first being part bird whose view from aloft is normal and comfortable, a creature whose brain and muscles frequently originate movements which suggest flight; and then there are pilots who regardless of their airborne time remain earth-loving bipeds forever. When these latter unfortunates, because of one urge or another, actually make an ascension, they neither anticipate nor relish the event and they drive their machines with the same graceless labor they inflict upon the family vehicle.”