Teacher Diaries: Mr James – The Poem I Love

One of my favourite aspects of poetry is that it can paint vivid pictures in our minds. In a small number of words, it can create incredibly detailed images that carry a poet’s message. The poem I would like to share here – Sea Fever by John Masefield – is an example of a text that fills our imagination with natural images, but most intriguingly describes the impact of this scene upon the speaker of the poem.

Masefield speaks to us through the voice of someone (whose age and gender are left unspecified) who imagines a scene of standing on a beach, before the might of a raging sea, marvelling at all the wonders of the scenes that pass before his eyes. Being written in the first person (using ‘I’ and ‘me’) makes the speaker seem so small in contrast with all the awe-inspiring natural events, and there is incredible strength conveyed with the word ‘must’, in the phrase ‘I must go down to the seas again,’ which is repeated at the beginning of each stanza.

I enjoy how Masefield combines sight and sound imagery with personification (putting human feelings or actions onto non-human things). Instead of simply ‘the sea and the sky’, how much more effective is it that Masefield writes ‘the lonely sea and the sky?’

The main reason I like this poem is because it allows the reader to escape for a brief moment to this natural environment, just as the speaker of the poem wishes to be in touch with nature. As a final thought, the last two lines tell us more about who the speaker is. Can you work out the speaker’s occupation from the words ‘a fellow-rover’ and ‘the long trick?’

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 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.

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