(1) I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
(2) And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
(3) And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
(4) And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking,
(5) I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
(6) Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
(7) And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
(8) And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
(9) I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
(10) To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
(11) And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
(12) And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
John Masefield lived and adventurous, exciting life. As a young boy, he joined the Navy and traveled the world for several years. He got off in New York, where he lived as homeless, and began writing poetry. Masefield’s poetry was heavily influenced by his time at sea, and in his work, he managed to perfectly capture the essence of the sea. Because of this striking display of mastery, he served as Britain’s poet laureate for over 30 years.
Rhyme Scheme: the ordered pattern of rhymes at the ends of the lines of a poem or verse.
The rhyme scheme of this poem is relatively simple to understand. Its rhymes follow an AABB CCDD EEFF pattern, meaning that every two lines rhyme with each other. As seen in lines 1 and 2, “sky” and “by” rhyme.
At first glance, this poem only seems to be about a man’s longing for the “lonely sea and sky,” or a man’s need for his home. Upon a deeper meaning, it doesn’t seem to be only about nostalgia for a previous occupation. All of the different complex figures of speech (rhythm and imagery) bring a certain beauty, or elegance to this work. The meter varies from an iambic to others constantly. The rhythm created from this technique could almost mimic the flow of an ocean. The term “gypsy life” used in line 9 gives the sea a carefree, easygoing mood. The entirety of the poem could possibly represent our desperate need of a guide throughout life. With the sea serving as life and the ship as our vessel by which we can “steer her by,” (in this case “her” can refer to life) are the faults in the human form personified? Are our abilities (or lack thereof) in living called out as faulty? Could the last couplet symbolize an optimistic prospect on death? Would the “long trick” in this case be a human life? Does Masefield wish for his inevitable death to come as gentle as an ocean wave, and carry him out to sea just in the way that was done during his time alive? Masefield could have also wished that he could live a life in the way he was able to on the sea. Out there, away from the monotony of normalcy, he was able to live as if life was meant for living rather than simply existing.
With this visual, I tried to capture both the serenity and beauty of the sea, pairing it with a beautiful ship that is lonely on the ocean. The moon itself seems solemn in the sky, and the lighting gives the picture an air of desolation. However, the lightness of the moon could just as well symbolize the need of happiness in a dark time. In the poem, Masefield says “the lonely sea and sky.” Every aspect of those lines are here. The sky is lonely, but it has the moon. You could almost beg the moon to forget to fall down, and stay in the sky forevermore. The ship is relaxed, and drifting upon the surface of the sea in a way that would allow for a “quiet sleep and sweet dream.” The sea itself is tranquil, yet almost seems restless for movement.
Almost in the way that I believe life should be led, the ship is traveling along the sea, leaving only a trail of memories behind, leaving the sea and sky at a calm, composed, silence.