Next month, February 2012, will mark the 70th anniversary of the exhibit that helped propel John Magee’s “High Flight” to national attention.
The exhibition was called “Poems of Faith and Freedom” and was put on by the Library of Congress. The Libriarian of Congress, Archibald MacLeish, a poet himself, was responsible for the creation of the exhibit. Along with High Flight were poems by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae (“In Flanders Fields”) and Rupert Brooke (“The Soldier”). I’m sure John Magee would have been thrilled to have his poem be shown alongside a poem written by his idol Rupert Brooke (Magee actually wrote a poem about Brooke, called, appropriately enough, “Sonnet to Rupert Brooke”).
In a press release, MacLeish declared “High Flight” to be the first great poem of this war. (Keep in mind that this is February 1942, a mere two months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. ) MacCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” was one of the great poems from WWI.
Newspapers picked up on the press release, as well as the fact that John Magee, who was listed as a resident of Washington, D.C., had died just after Pearl Harbor. “High Flight” was “discovered” and, in today’s terms, went viral.