A Poet’s Story

Story-telling is the signature of humanity.  And the very best stories of all come from our poets.  John Edward Masefield was a consummate story-teller.  Born in Ledbury in Herefordshire, England on June 1, 1878, he lost his parents at an early age and endured an unhappy education at the King’s School in Warwick. He escaped to the sea on board the HMS Conway for two reasons, the first one being to train for a life at sea.   His second reason was more unusual: to break his addiction to reading because his aunt thought it was a wasteful pastime.  Instead of curbing his appetite for reading, the lengthy time at sea gave him the occasion to read and write.  His love of story-telling was cultivated when he listened to shipmates speak of the lore of the sea.

John Masefield left the sea to become a writer.  It was not an easy road – he lived as a vagrant and accepted odd jobs, including an assistant to a bar keeper. His turning point was 1895 when he read the poem “The Piper of Arll” by Duncan Campbell Scott.  He became Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1930 until his death in 1967.  He rests in the Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Sea Fever is on my favourite list.  I especially identify with:  “And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover.”  In the end, it is our connections with friends and family that make life extraordinary.

Sea Fever
by John Masefield

I must go down to the seas 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 sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking,

I must down to the seas 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 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.

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2 thoughts on “A Poet’s Story

    • Thank you! My other “favourite” John Masefield poem is the one he addressed to his heirs, administrators and assigns:

      Let no religious rite be done or read
      In any place for me when I am dead,
      But burn my body into ash, and scatter
      The ash in secret into running water,
      Or on the windy down, and let none see;
      And then thank God that there’s an end of me.

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