Salt-water Ballads by John Masefield

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"I Must Down To The Seas Again"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Masefield's first volume of poems, "Salt-Water Ballads," was the result of his early experience as a sailor before the mast. The ballads are vigorous descriptions of life at sea, often written in an idiom that, in 1902, was considered almost too crude. Their general point-of-view–the praise of a life of physical activity and adventure–is a part of the Georgian reaction against the artificial poetry of the 1890's. It is poetry of the outdoors rather than of the city, a true "return to nature." "Sea-Fever" as the title indicates, is the expression of nostalgic longing for the beauty of the old sailing ships that the poet had known, the call of the sea that cannot be denied. The poem is a vivid description of such a ship running before the wind. It begins:

I must 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.