As I thought about the recent Pluto mission, I remembered a speech that Reagan gave after the Challenger disaster. He was supposed to give a long State of the Union speech that night, but opted for a shorter 5-minute speech. Regardless of your political views, it’s an amazing piece. Ideas for speeches can come from anywhere–poems (as you’ll see) work really well.
From a speechwriting perspective, his speechwriter Peggy Noonan did something interesting for his speech: She borrowed a few key lines from a poem by John Gillespie Magee. The theme of the poem is the backdrop for the first half of the speech, too. The poem is the official one of the Royal Air Force and other astronauts and flight directors have quoted it as well. Next time that you need to figure out what to say in a speech, look to poetry for guidance and you just might find some good phrases and themes to use.
“High Flight” (1941, John Gillespie 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.”
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