In the poem "Sea Fever" by John Masefield, where do you hear variations in the meter?

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Let's scan the first stanza together. I will mark stressed syllables in bold and use a "|" symbol to divide feet from one another.

I must | go down | to the seas | a gain | to the lone | ly sea | and the skyAnd all |...

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Let's scan the first stanza together. I will mark stressed syllables in bold and use a "|" symbol to divide feet from one another.

I must | go down | to the seas | a gain | to the lone | ly 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 sha | king
And a grey | mist on | the sea's | face and | a grey | dawn brea | king

To scan a poem, it's often a good idea to start with polysyllabic words (words with more than one syllable), as we can easily mark the stresses in those. However, most of the words in this stanza are actually monosyllabic (having only one syllable)! In the first line, we can begin with the words again and lonely. We can also try reading the line by putting a stress on certain words to see how that feels: does it feel good and rhythmic or does it feel strange and contrived? I arrived at the stresses above using a combination of these strategies. The first two lines mostly adhere to an iambic heptameter (seven feet per line with the iamb as the prevailing foot—an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable). However, you see that the third, fifth, and seventh feet are all anapests, substitutions for iambs. Anapests have two short or unstressed syllables followed by one stressed. The second line has one such anapestic substitution. Lines three and four both begin with an anapest, followed by five iambs, and finish with a truncated iamb (where the final, stressed sound is missing). These substitutions and truncations are all metrical variations.

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Part of the success of this excellent poem is the way that the author uses meter to enact the sound and the rhythm and the feel of the waves as they lap against the boat of the speaker's imagination. Of course, the meter varies tremendously as you go through the poem, with the iambic pentameter at times changing to spondees that give these lines a definitely different feel. Consider the following example:

And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking...

The spondee of "wheel's kick" and "wind's song" and "white sail's" help to enact the sound of the waves of the sea hitting the side of the boat and the rhythm of the water. This is a technique that is used not just once in the poem, but in other lines. Now that I have identified this example try to scan lines 7 and 11 to analyse the use of spondees by the author. You might want to think about how dactyls are used as well. Good luck!

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