High in the sunlit silence

On an afternoon walk with my son, I see it.

A little plane, sailing serenely past the clouds, fuselage glowing gold in the waning sunlight.

My first thought: I can’t hear it. And it can’t hear me.

Then: How peaceful it must be to transcend Earth’s noise and strife...

Reminds me of a favorite poem:

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., Pilot Officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force, wrote the verse in the summer of 1941. He would die in a plane collision four months later. He was nineteen.

High in the sunlit silence…with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod/The high untrespassed sanctity of space… that is exactly the sense I get while watching this little aircraft. A taste of sun-split cloud, a breath of whipping wind in the delirious blue, the holy hush…

But the plane vanishes, almost like a mirage. I am left standing here on the ground.

My son and I walk on, although we feel a little lighter for having seen it.

*******

The poem High Flight has been memorized through the years by cadets at the United States Air Force Academy; its lines adorn many headstones at Arlington. In my house it graces a plaque beside my father’s photo. Daddy joined the USAF at nineteen. Although he wasn’t a pilot or career serviceman, he always loved planes and is buried in a veterans cemetery by a military base where the jets go screaming over every day.

He chose the spot for this reason.

Tomorrow is Veterans Day; I am grateful for those who serve my country.

I can’t help noting that there is nothing new under the sun: this observance first began with Armistice Day in 1918…in the throes of a pandemic.

And that healing begins with ceasefire, whether with weapons or words.

High in the sunlit silence…with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod/The high untrespassed sanctity of space… even if that space is within my own mind, a sanctuary without parameters, where my spirit is free to keep reaching far beyond Earth, believing.

13 thoughts on “High in the sunlit silence

  1. So much to explore in your Slice today, Fran! I love how you tie in your experience with the poem, this week’s holiday, your father…and even the pandemic. The connections are there, if we but pause to look and ponder. My Marine uncle’s birthday falls on Veterans’ Day; we’ve had almost every military branch represented within three generations of my extended family. I will be pausing, and pondering, too.

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    • Thanks, Chris – to you for your response and to your family for service. A late inspiration came to me, so I added a line – ‘healing begins with ceasefire, whether with weapons or words.’ Enjoy your holiday.

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  2. I read this post, the poem twice. There are some things that need to be read twice. I feel a sense of longing and melancholy in Magee’s words. Veterans experience so much loss and yet they soldier on. If you talk to a veteran, you can see a mist in their eyes, forever changed by their experiences. Thanks for honoring the day with such a heartfelt post.

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    • So true about the mist in veterans’ eyes. The word that comes to mind is “valor.” I have just added a line in the post, as must have been germinating and sprouted late: ‘healing begins with ceasefire, whether with weapons or words.’ Thank you, Margaret.

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  3. Fran, your slice is eloquent as ever and filled with such hope. I almost forgot that Veteran’s Day is coming up in the midst of so much to do. Your line, “And that healing begins with ceasefire, whether with weapons or words,” is something that must happen to bring America to a state of unity amidst discord and disease. I am so grateful that the election results allow us to do so. Peace to you today, Fran. Thank you for sharing this poem.

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  4. Do you remember the days before 24 hour television? Networks/stations would sign off w/ “High Flight.” I’d watch the black and white screen w/ planes flying and listen to the recitation of that poem. It is comforting and fits the TWT motivation today. I hadn’t even thought about Veterans Day being tomorrow. ‘Preciate the reminder. Both my sons are vets, so I need to call them and thank them for their service.

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  5. Fran, your first sentence, “On an afternoon walk with my son, I see it.” hooked me. I enjoyed the amazing poem, and all the personal connections you made to it! Your post spoke to me in many ways. It made me think of my father, who was a Marine Veteran, my uncle, who is a Vietnam War Veteran, my neighbor who is a Marine Veteran, he served in the Iraq War twice and the Afghanistan War twice, other past/present uncles and cousins who were/are veterans. Thank you for reminding me to honor them and all veterans.

    “And that healing begins with ceasefire, whether with weapons or words,” is so fitting in your post. Since the election I feel like a heavy weight and darkness is being lifted. When Biden and Harris take office I think many of us are going to heal from Trump’s weapons and words. I also feel positive that we are going to come out of the darkness of the pandemic.

    Your line, “How peaceful it must be to transcend Earth’s noise and strife…” brought back an exciting memory when my best friend and I, who were sixteen flew in her neighbor’s four-seat plane! I remember feeling free, like I had wings. I told my father about our adventure and he told me to not tell my mother, which I wasn’t planning on doing because she was too much of a worrier.

    We live near a small airport and I often see gliders, which make me long to not only glide in one, but pilot one, to feel that freedom, that peace, but now because of your words, “even if that space is within my own mind, a sanctuary without parameters, where my spirit is free to keep reaching far beyond Earth, believing,” I know I can do this in my mind. Thank you sharing your powerful and uplifting post.

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    • Gail, thank you for such a heartfelt response. What a riveting story about flying in the neighbor’s plane! I do hope the healing will come – and it will, if everyone is willing to cease wounding one another. So grateful for your words -and to your family for serving our country.

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  6. There’s so much to love about this post. There is just something so freeing about flight – whether it’s the physical soaring in the air, or the way we can allow our minds to roam where we wish.

    And healing. Oh, to begin healing – building from our own broken selves on outward…

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