Thursday, June 01, 2006

Poetry Thursday 2

I'm going to do it again, and if Kelly of Big A, little a could reach across the Ocean that separates us, I don't doubt she'd be tempted to kick my shins at least, for pre-empting the poetry party two weeks in a row ! But it's John Masefield's birthday today, and I wanted to celebrate on the day. I love his poem "Sea Fever" (it's best chanted, never mind read, aloud):


I must 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.

The first time I ever read it after reading The Lord of the Rings, I thought of Legolas sitting up in Minas Tirish, enchanted by the Sea that he had only recently seen for the first time.

John Masefield was born in the town of Ledbury, surrounded by beautiful countryside in the region of Herefordshire, England, on June 1, 1878. The picturesque county in which he was born is located near the border of Wales (it borders with my home county of Gloucestershire), and was described by Masefield as his "Paradise". As a young boy, Masefield was able to roam the countryside, and delighted in watching the ships moving up and down the local canal; wandering alone through the meadows and woods; and taking an interest in and observing the beauty of the natural flora and fauna of the area. He suffered several tragedies in his life at an early age, losing both his parents by the age of 12. The responsibility for bringing up the orphaned Masefield children was taken on by an aunt and uncle with no experience of children and lacking the necessary finances to continue the expensive schooling John had been receiving. And to John's irritation, since by now he had become very fond of reading, his aunt scorned books and had his grandfather's library removed from her home. At the age of 13 John's aunt insisted that he be sent to the sea-cadet ship, the HMS Conway, for training for a life at sea. He spent several years aboard this training ship and whilst he initially had no desire to go there, he found that he could spend much of his time reading and writing, as well as receiving instruction in nautical subjects such as astronomy, navigation and geography. It was whilst he was on board the Conway that Masefield's love for story-telling grew. During his years on the ship spent in the company of his instructors, many of whom had years of experience at sea, he listened to many yarns that were verbally passed on about sea lore. He continued to read books with a passion, and at this early age felt that he was to become a writer and story teller himself. He was Poet Laureate from 1930 until his death in 1967, and is best remembered by many as the author of the classic children's novels The Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights.

A Ballad of John Silver

We were schooner-rigged and rakish, with a long and lissome hull,
And we flew the pretty colours of the crossbones and the skull;
We'd a big black Jolly Roger flapping grimly at the fore,
And we sailed the Spanish Water in the happy days of yore.

We'd a long brass gun amidships, like a well-conducted ship,
We had each a brace of pistols and a cutlass at the hip;
It's a point which tells against us, and a fact to be deplored,
But we chased the goodly merchant-men and laid their ships aboard.

Then the dead men fouled the scuppers and the wounded filled the chains,
And the paint-work all was spatter dashed with other peoples brains,
She was boarded, she was looted, she was scuttled till she sank.
And the pale survivors left us by the medium of the plank.

O! then it was (while standing by the taffrail on the poop)
We could hear the drowning folk lament the absent chicken coop;
Then, having washed the blood away, we'd little else to do
Than to dance a quiet hornpipe as the old salts taught us to.

O! the fiddle on the fo'c'sle, and the slapping naked soles,
And the genial "Down the middle, Jake, and curtsey when she rolls!"
With the silver seas around us and the pale moon overhead,
And the look-out not a-looking and his pipe-bowl glowing red.

Ah! the pig-tailed, quidding pirates and the pretty pranks we played,
All have since been put a stop to by the naughty Board of Trade;
The schooners and the merry crews are laid away to rest,
A little south the sunset in the islands of the Blest.

* * * * * *

I apologise for the shortage of book reviews so far this week. I've taken to writing them out long hand during my lunch break, but finding the energy to type them up and edit them of an evening, after 8 hours of proof-reading is not easy. I promise to make up for it at the weekend (including spoiler-ish reviews for the Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone).


Liz B said...

I knew Sea Fever, but John Silver is new to me. I got chills reading it!

Kelly said...

Don't worry, Michele! I'm a peaceful person :)

Michele said...

Oh excellent ! It's definitely got a different atmosphere to "Sea Fever". I like Masefield's poetry, and I haven't read much for some time, but I vaguely remembered this one so I looked it up. "Sea Fever" is my favourite of his poems though, the rhythm expresses the feverishness of his longing, which is why I thought of it in context with Legolas.

Michele said...

Kelly, I'm relieved. I promise not to tease you so much in future !