In the poem "Sea Fever" by John Masefield, where does the meter reinforce the sense of the poem? 

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amarang9's profile pic

amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The meter is iambic and anapestic heptameter (seven feet and 14-21 syllables). It is mostly iambic which is an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable (da DUM). But some anapestic feet are mixed in. An anapestic foot consists of two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable (da da DUM). There also a few feet made of just one stressed syllable. The iamb comes very natural to the English language. In this poem, it has a sing-song quality. This makes it sound natural and jaunty like a chantey, which is a song chanted by sailors as they work. The first two lines in heptameter, with iambs and anapests, would sound like this:

(da DUM - da DUM – da da DUM – da DUM – da da DUM – da DUM – da da DUM)

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

(da DUM - da DUM – da da DUM – DUM – da da DUM – da DUM – da DUM)

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,

Since it sounds like a chantey, a sea song, this reinforces the theme of the poem which is a fever for the sea. The cadence also swings back and forth. This symbolizes the ebb and flow of the tide and the rocking of the boat: the “wheel’s kick and the wind’s song.”

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sciftw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The overall "sense" of the poem is that the speaker has a longing passion for the life of a sailor. He desires to be on a ship sailing the seas in order to experience the natural rhythms of the water.  

Meter is a stressed and unstressed syllable pattern in a verse or line of a poem. This poem's meter naturally reinforces the "feel" of the sea. The meter does this in two ways. First, the meter causes the poem itself to sound like a sea chantey. A sea chantey is a type of work song that was once sung to accompany labor onboard sailing vessels. The songs served a couple of purposes. They kept the minds of the sailors off of the difficult work and helped to unify their efforts. Instead of saying something like "1, 2, 3, HEAVE," the natural stressing of the song's syllables alerted sailors to the moments of effort and rest.

Secondly, because the poem has a fairly regular meter, it mimics the fairly regular ebb and flow of the ocean's tides and waves. The previous post did a great job of explaining how the poem is mostly written in iambic and anapestic feet. An iamb is an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. The anapestic foot is unstressed, unstressed, stressed.  

Let's look at the first line of the poem because it is a good example of the mixing of iambic and anapestic feet. 

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

Using da and DUM for stressed and unstressed, here is how that line should read.  

(da DUM - da DUM – da da DUM – da DUM – da da DUM – da DUM – da da DUM)

The second line of the poem closely matches the previous rhythm; however, it attaches a spondaic foot at the end of an anapest.  

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,

(da DUM - da DUM – da da DUM – DUM – da da DUM – da DUM – da DUM)

Notice the two stressed syllables appearing right in a row. This doesn't mess up the rhythm of the poem in any large way, but it does force the reader to be "bounced" a bit off of the rhythm that was established in the previous line. That's exactly what it would be like on a ship. The water, most of the time, is going to be wonderfully rhythmic and repetitive, but there will be times when a wind, tide shift, or current causes the ship to move just a little bit differently. When sailors comment that they can feel the sea's moods through the ship, it's because they are attuned to those subtle changes.

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