This week’s poem is a kind of coda to the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It is written by John Masefield, Poet Laureate from 1930 to 1967 and the author of “The Box of Delights”.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tideJohn Masefield (1878—1967)
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied
Poem 177. Sea Fever
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.
This poem speaks so strongly of a deep attraction to the sea, the feeling of being “alone on a wide wide sea” that Coleridge expressed so well in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It draws a clear picture of solo sea voyaging and also of the deep pleasure to be had when the journey is completed and one can swap tales with other sailors and sleep peacefully without needing to tend the tiller or manage the sails.
I like it because of the sweeping descriptions of the sea, and the rhythm of the lines.
I have a recording of Masefield himself reading the poem and it is fascinating to hear his high, warbling voice reading these lines.
Flanders and Swann wrote a song based on Sea Fever which they performed in their second revue, “At the Drop of Another Hat”—the seafarer in their version is a little less keen on the “vagrant gypsy life”:
Carry me back to the landSea Fever, by Michael Flanders and Donald Swann
Pebble, mud or sand
O to be back on the beach once more
On the still dry land