‘Sea-Fever’ by John Masefield
I first encountered John Masefield as a novelist, in his Christmas book every English child knows — The Box of Delights. It’s a bonkers story in which winter has brought evil, and children are here to save the day. It features a world that is dark and cold and magical. Send in the kids!
Masefield, who served as England’s poet laureate for decades, spent some time on the sea, although not very long. This poem, one of his earliest, remains one of his best known.
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 go 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 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.
I do not lead “the vagrant gypsy life.” I can easily deny the sea’s “wild call.” I’ve never asked for a “tall ship” or a small boat or even a measly kayak. And yet, I love this poem. It’s been on my to-learn list for months.
I am at that past-midlife age when I know that the life I’m in is the life I’ll keep. Much of that is good (very good). Some of it has me lusting after “all the mornings I never knew.” The deserts that are part of my life tempt me to cravings my younger self would never have believed. If leeks and onions by the Nile, why not “the gull’s way and the whale’s way”?
Nah. The poem itself eases my “Sea-Fever.” With it in my heart, I can enjoy “quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.”
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