Poetry Friday: Happy Birthday, Dad

Today would have been my father’s 82nd birthday.  He died almost twenty years ago from a sudden heart attack. Dad joined the Air Force after high school, although he always said he wanted to go into the Navy. I think he dreamed of being a naval pilot, but the closest he came to that dream was building Sikorsky helicopters during the height of the Vietnam war.

My father wasn’t a “reader,” although he knew a lot about history and did read nonfiction about World War II. Reading poetry definitely wasn’t on his list of favorite activities. But when he died, my sister found this poem, which we agree he would have loved, to read at his funeral.

“High Flight”
by John Magee

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.

My father, proudly marching in our town’s Fireman’s parade, c. 1970

Please be sure to visit Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

10 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Happy Birthday, Dad

  1. What a great photo of your Dad! I enjoyed this poem in L.M. Elliott’s triology, ‘Under a War Torn Sky.’ And, it is such a lovely poem for a letting go of someone who dreamed of flight. Thanks for the lofty thoughts today. I wish you lots of good writing words these summer days.

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  2. I love the picture of your dad, and your writing about him, celebrating his birthday, Catherine. This is a favorite poem of my family’s, too, as my dad, a pilot, was shot down in the Philippines during World War II. We owe so much to that generation. Thanks for sharing this beautiful poem.

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  3. Like the Lindas, I love the photo of your dad. I also love the poem.
    “Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
    And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;”–What a beautiful image with which to say goodbye. Thinking of you today.

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  4. As with others here, I love this photo of your dad and the poem that seems perfect for him. It’s been almost three decades since my father died, and his birthday and father’s day seem to open wounds I thought were well sealed. Hugs to you today.

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  5. Love “touched the face of God.” Your father sounds like a wonderful man. I’m sorry you lost him so young.

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  6. This is such a beautiful poem. I’m sorry you didn’t get all those years with your dad. Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

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  7. This has long been one of my favorite poems. It perfectly captures for me the feeling of flight–the pure joy of feeling the wheels lift off from the ground and the nose aim for the clouds. I love the photo of your father and your tribute to him.

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  8. Such parallels. My dad also died young — 25 years ago. He was an ag pilot — a crop duster — until I was born, but only got to work on planes during his time in the Navy in WWII. He loved this poem. I love this poem. It makes me cry every time I read it. Here’s John Denver singing it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjzcdvF3gDc (scrub to 3:25 for the song)

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  9. Obviously I never knew your dad, Catherine, but there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that you are right—that he LOVED hearing that poem at his funeral. xo

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  10. It’s a GREAT poem, and not only for those who have dreamed of actual flight, but for anyone who has wished to slip their surly bonds. That photo is so expressive–I bet you could write a wonderful poem about your dad from that.

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