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ANSWERED on Sun 14 Oct 2007 - 3:07 am UTC by pinkfreud

Question: Sea Fever by John Masefield

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 14 Oct 2007 01:15 UTCSun 14 Oct 2007 - 1:15 am UTC 

This poem is a favourite recitation of veteran broadcaster Eric MacEwen. The Eric MacEwen Show airs Saturday nights 9 - 11pm AST on CFCY Prince Edward Island. Mr. MacEwen (61) is often regarded as the godfather of the East Coast Music revival in Atlantic Canada.


Listen live here:


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.

From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Masefield

...Early life

Masefield was born in Ledbury, in Herefordshire, a rural area in England. His mother died at giving birth to his brother when Masefield was only 6 and he went to live with his aunt. His father died soon after. After an unhappy education at the King's School in Warwick (now known as Warwick School), where he was a boarder between 1888 and 1891, he left to board the HMS Conway, both to train for a life at sea, and to break his addiction to reading, of which his Aunt thought little. He spent several years aboard this ship and found that he could spend much of his time reading and writing. It was aboard the Conway that Masefield’s love for story-telling grew. While on the ship, he listened to the stories told about sea lore. He continued to read, and felt that he was to become a writer and story teller himself...

...By 24, Masefield’s poems were being published in periodicals and his first collected works, "Salt-Water Ballads" was published. "Sea Fever" appeared in this book.

My question is about this poem. Can additional background & anecdotal information about 'Sea Fever' be obtained?

Thank you.




 14 Oct 2007 03:07 UTCSun 14 Oct 2007 - 3:07 am UTC 

Ahoy, Ray.

I've gathered some snippets related to "Sea Fever" for you.

"'Sea-Fever', a poem published in 1900 by the former poet laureate John Masefield and taught to generations of schoolchildren, has been voted the nation's favourite sea poem. The online poll, conducted by Magma Poetry and SeaBritain 2005, placed Masefield's classic poem ahead of Martin Newell's 'The Song of the Waterlily' and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'."


"The first line of 'Sea Fever' originally began, 'I must go down.' Twenty years later Masefield changed it to 'I must down,' but after twenty more years he put 'go' back. 'Now, alas, I can't make up my mind,' he said."

(from "Best Remembered Poems," by Martin Gardner)


"Masefield’s autobiographical account of his first term on board the Conway in 1891 entitled New Chum tells of confusion, awe and wonder at this new world. His marine schooling trained him for the sea and also, crucially, introduced him to marine history, mythology and yarns. Gaining the position of a senior petty officer, Masefield left the ship in 1894 and was apprenticed to a four-masted barque (the Gilcruix) sailing from Cardiff to Iquique in Chile via Cape Horn. The new apprentice was violently ill and upon arrival sunstroke combined with a nervous breakdown to invalid Masefield. He was classified as a Distressed British Seaman and, after time in hospital, returned to England. The aunt taunted her nephew and arrangements were made for the young man to join another ship in New York. Masefield had other plans and upon arrival in America he deserted ship vowing ‘to be a writer, come what might'."


"'The call of the running tide,' wrote John Masefield, '"is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied.' Actually, for Britain's late poet laureate it was mostly a call to the rail. Describing his chronic seasickness in a 1918 letter just acquired by Columbia University, Masefield appended a cartoon sketch of himself lying in open-mouthed nausea on his bunk, with the caption: 'O captain, stop this misery'!"


"It is too maddening. I've got to fly off, right now, to some devilish navy yard, three hours in a seasick steamer, and after being heartily sick, I'll have to speak three times, and then I'll be sick coming home. Still, who would not be sick for England?
(John Masefield)"


"News item, ca 1928:
When Mrs. John Masefield and her husband, the author of 'I must go down to the seas again', arrived here on a liner, she said to a reporter, 'It was too uppy-downy, and Mr. Masefield was ill'."


A revealing quote from Masefield:

"I shall always be glad of my short sea time. It was real naked life... At sea you get manhood knocked bare, and it was a fine thing, a splendid thing."


"Salt-Water Ballads was Masefield's first published book. The collection of verse is largely derived from earlier contributions to periodicals. First published in 1902, it was reissued in 1913 and subsequently reprinted on many occasions."


Several "Star Trek" references:

"John Masefield was a 20th century English writer and poet, noted for his poem 'Sea-Fever' which contains the line: 'And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.' This line appeared on the dedication plaques of the USS Enterprise-A and the USS Defiant.

In 2268, James T. Kirk quotes from Sea-Fever to Leonard McCoy. (TOS: 'The Ultimate Computer')

In 2287, Leonard McCoy confused the Masefield for Herman Melville, but was corrected by Spock. (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier)

In 2372, Quark paraphrased Masefield's poem, Sea-Fever, while aboard his ship Quark's Treasure, saying 'all I ask is a tall ship...and a load of contraband to fill her with.' (DS9: 'Little Green Men')"


24 audio recordings of "Sea Fever"

"Sea Fever" has received numerous musical adaptations. Here's a version with music by John Ireland:


A musical version by Kris Delmhorst:


I hope this is helpful!



Phil Answerfinder 


 14 Oct 2007 07:42 UTCSun 14 Oct 2007 - 7:42 am UTC 

This is the extract from the 1881 census giving his parents' names. Clearly a well-off middle class household.




 14 Oct 2007 13:01 UTCSun 14 Oct 2007 - 1:01 pm UTC 

Well done Pink. An answer including material from the past, present and the future! This was helpful indeed. Very thorough! Thank you.




 14 Oct 2007 13:06 UTCSun 14 Oct 2007 - 1:06 pm UTC 

Interesting information Phil.Thank you for the post.




 14 Oct 2007 17:25 UTCSun 14 Oct 2007 - 5:25 pm UTC 

Many thanks for the tip!


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