Annotated High Flight



(Click on image for artist's page.)


       Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds1 of earth,
       And danced the skies2 on laughter-silvered wings;
       Sunward I've climbed,3 and joined the tumbling mirth4
       Of sun-split clouds5 -- and done a hundred things6
       You have not dreamed of -- Wheeled and soared and swung7
       High in the sunlit silence.8 Hov'ring there,9
       I've chased the shouting wind10 along, and flung
       My eager craft11 through footless halls of air.

       Up, up the long, delirious burning blue12
       I've topped the windswept heights13 with easy grace
       Where never lark, or even eagle14 flew.
       And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
       The high untrespassed sanctity of space,15
       Put out my hand,16 and touched the face of God.


  1. Flight crews must insure that all surly bonds have been slipped entirely before aircraft taxi or flight is attempted.
  2. During periods of severe sky dancing, the FASTEN SEATBELT sign must remain illuminated.
  3. Sunward climbs must not exceed the maximum permitted aircraft ceiling.
  4. Passenger aircraft are prohibited from joining the tumbling mirth.
  5. Pilots flying through sun-split clouds must comply with all applicable visual and instrument flight rules.
  6. These hundred things must be listed on a Federal Aviation Administration flight plan and approved prior to execution.
  7. Wheeling, soaring, and swinging will not be accomplished simultaneously except by pilots in the flight simulator or in their own aircraft on their own time.
  8. Be advised that sunlit silence will occur only when a major engine malfunction has occurred.
  9. "Hov'ring there" will constitute a highly reliable signal that a flight emergency is imminent.
  10. Forecasts of shouting winds are available from the local Flight Service Station. Encounters with unexpected shouting winds should be reported by pilots.
  11. Be forewarned that pilot craft-flinging is a leading cause of passenger airsickness.
  12. Should any crew member or passenger experience delirium while in the burning blue, submit an irregularity report upon flight termination.
  13. Windswept heights will be topped by a minimum of 1,000 feet to prevent massive airsickness-bag use.
  14. Aircraft engine ingestion of, or impact with, larks or eagles should be reported to the FAA and the appropriate aircraft maintenance facility.
  15. Air Traffic Control (ATC) must issue all special clearances for treading the high untrespassed sanctity of space.
  16. FAA regulations state that no one may sacrifice aircraft cabin pressure to open aircraft windows or doors while in flight

Author Unknown. From AIR & Space magazine, August / September 1996.

The annotations remind me of a book title by Astronaut Collins, the command module pilot of Apollo 11. He called his version of the Columbia / Eagle flight Carrying the Fire. Why? How does one carry fire? Very carefully. If the original High Flight speaks eloquently of the romance of flight, the annotations speak in a humorous way of the other side of flight. To take to the air is a dangerous thing. To do so without all due precautions is unwise...


Little Dreams