During the early days of World War II, while the US was still neutral, many Americans crossed into Canada to enlist. John Gillespie Magee, Jr. was among them, giving up a Yale scholarship for a place in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was soon flying in England where, at 19, he was struck with the inspiration for a poem: "To Touch the Face of God." He wrote a quick verse while in the air and concluded the poem on the ground shortly after landing. He wrote out the poem on the back of a letter to his parents. Magee died a few months later from a mid-air collision. On his headstone reads the first and last lines of his poem:
"Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth- Put out my hand and touched the face of God."
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. 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 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.