I suppose this must be John Masefield’s most famous poem, written early in the 20th century, and drawing on his experiences of life at sea as a young man, when traditional long-haul sailing ships still co-existed with the coming wave of steam-powered vessels. The longing to go to sea is an obsession, almost a sickness, a fever, for one who has experienced it and wants to return.
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.
Each of the three stanzas start with the same half line, “I must go down to the seas again…”, binding the poem together by repetition. The other glue running through the whole piece is the word “and” linking together an accumulation of images and references about the sea, building a cumulative impact in almost a hypnotic way to accentuate the call of the sea. The poet uses alliteration extensively, “a star to steer her by”, and the “wheel”, “wind” and “white” in the third line, with several other examples.
Life at sea in the mind of this poet is adventurous, a heightened experience in close contact with the elements, with comradeship and travel. It is probably the same motivation as the ultra-rich of today with their luxury yachts.
The Poetry Dude