29 March 2012

Masefield

Sea Fever

I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sails shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the sea again, for the call of the running tide 
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.
By John Masefield (1902)

Whitby Harbour  1880 by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
Some poets write in a sort of academic and intellectual isolation - divorced from the real world. Others are very much involved in the hurly burly of their societies, acquiring experiences that nourish their writing. You might say that these latter poets are at "the front line" while the former are in field camps set comfortably well back from the action. I  note with approval that as a very young man John Masefield sought adventure at sea. Perhaps he was escaping from the disappointments of his childhood - the deaths of his parents and his unhappy schooling in Warwick - but anyway  he worked aboard transatlantic trade ships, mingling with rough and ready mariners. 

As he looked out, he wasn't just imagining the sea, he was experiencing it firsthand and it's that genuine feeling for the sea that marks this poem - written when he was still only twenty four. It's like a lot of his poetry - accessible, clear and a little predictable - rarely appearing to wrestle with slippery esoteric notions or to dance on undercurrents of meaning. What you see is what you get with Masefield. Some have said he was more of a storyteller than a poet but in his day he was feted as a poet on both sides  of the Atlantic, becoming Britain's Poet Laureate in 1930 - a position he held until his death in 1967.

11 comments:

  1. I didn't realise he was alive in my lifetime. My Dad used to quote bits of that poem when I was a teen and we were sailing our little tub around Napier.

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  2. And of course there's the one that starts Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir.... and ends with Cheap tin trays!

    I love Masefield's poetry.

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  3. As you say, he was a very young man when he wrote that poem and it is rather romantic view of seafaring. Cargoes was more balanced with its 'dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack'!

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  4. Thankyou for posting this poem, it is one of my absolute favourites.
    Briony
    x

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  5. KATHERINE Yes. I remember my English teacher telling us he had died.
    MORNING AJ That's "Cargoes"..."rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine". A lovely sounding poem.
    SHOOTING PARROTS But I think all of us can identify with that urge to go down to the sea again. It's much bigger than us. It rolls through time and leads to faraway places. It gives us perspective and listens without comment to our unspoken troubles.
    CRAFTY CAT CORNER (BRIONY) It's easy to forget these poems. To leave them far behind in the schoolrooms of our youth. To see them now as mature people may give them more value.I think so.

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  7. for some reason Blogger has been stopping me from commenting ...... perhaps I failed the CRB check?

    Anyhoo.... I just wanted to say the name of a poem (not even by Masefield) that this post was making me think of....

    "It's not what you do, it's what it does to you" which is all about enrichment and experiences.... That Simon Armitage chappie and also (funnily enough) the Black Moss one that you told me about before I got "sent away".

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  8. Now that's a post!

    So is there another voyage in your future?

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  9. ARCTICULATED FOX Pleased that that Armitage poem was rolling around in your mind during those long nights in your lonely cell.
    MR BRAGUE No immediate plans to journey elsewhere. Those three weeks in New Zealand seemed to have suppressed the itch - at least for the time being. How about you and Ellie? In your retirement you could do something stupendous - like a visit to Italy...or even France in search of lost Bragues.

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  10. One of my favourite poems - I love it (and I love just about any seaside!)

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  11. If you are considering more travel, and considering India, you simply must explore this link before you go.

    If it is the product of a non-native speaker of English, it is indeed charming. If it is the product of some automatic online language translator, their software could use a little more work.

    Enjoy!

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