Tuesday Poem: Sea Fever

I woke early this morning with this poem scrolling out in my head. I have no idea why that happened but I expect it’s not unrelated to nostalgia for leaving Waiheke Island, where visions of the sea inhabit my mind and heart in an appropriately feverish way. I also had no idea that the whole of the poem was stored somewhere in my brain: complete, unabridged, perfect. It must have been pleased to get an airing; I don’t believe I’ve tried to remember it since I was in Year Eight at school.

Masefield turns out, with the help of Wikipedia, to be a very interesting person – and unsurprisingly he worked as a sailor, including on one of the last of the commercial windjammers. ‘Sea Fever’ was published when he was 24.

by John Masefield

(1878-1967; English Poet Laureate 1930-1967.)

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.

And here’s a link to the late great Thomas Allen singing the version set to music. (Maybe 2012 is the year in which I finally learn how to embed YouTube links?) And while I’m talking poetry why don’t you look at what the other Tuesday Poets are offering: if one of the posts on the sidebar mentions a Tuesday Poem you can be sure there’s a poem in there somewhere.

8 Responses to “Tuesday Poem: Sea Fever”

  1. Lucille Says:

    I often have that playing in my head too. Both boys learnt to sing it at school. Loved the quote you left at Backwards. Was it a comment on an earlier post?

  2. admin Says:

    How lovely that both your boys sang that! And in relation to that ‘essentials of happiness’ quote: no, it was – rather too subtly it seems – a comment in response to TK saying how good it was to be needed.

  3. Tim Jones Says:

    What a wonderfully rhythmic poem this is – I’m intrigued that, in the many years since I last saw it, my mind had inserted a ‘go’ before ‘down’ that does not in fact live there – very good to see it again.

  4. admin Says:

    Ah yes – that non existent “go” haunts many a memory! Very glad you liked meeting it again.

  5. Helen Lowe Says:

    This is one of my favourite poems–and my 1923 edition of Masefield’s “Ballads and Poems” definitely has the “to”

    “I must go down to the seas again”

  6. admin Says:

    Helen, do you mean that your 1923 edition has the “go”, rather than the “to”? As far as I know the “to” is not disputed; it’s the “go” that many memories seem to want to add when it’s not actually there. I’d be intrigued to discover that the “go” was there in 1923, if that’s the case! I can imagine a PhD dissertation on the subject…

  7. Elizabeth Welsh Says:

    Love the sung version, Belinda! Embedding Youtube clips is something I need to learn, too :)

  8. admin Says:

    If you find out first let me know: I’ll do the same. I’ve tried several different things that don’t work: roll on the one that does!

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