P.O.E.T.S. Day! The John Masefield Edition!

Get out. Escape. Lie. Cheat. Key a car. Whatever you have to do to get out of work and start your weekend early must be on the table. Nothing beyond a misdemeanor should be discounted unless you are slightly more than moderately sure you can get away with it.

It’s P.O.E.T.S. Day: Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday, and my bar is stocked and ready with cold beer on a new tap system, an in-the-midst-of-being-overhauled wine list with some impressive new selections, and a smattering of liquors all guaranteed to ease the burdens of modern life, unless you get whiny or violent when you drink. We’ll have none of that, thank you very much.

Loquacious is good. A few glasses of wine and you become a raconteur? Please and welcome. Keep it upbeat though and make sure that the tv (television) can still be heard over your voice or the baseball nuts will get angry. We value a polite interaction at our bar.

Speaking of politeness, this week’s featured poet was so polite that he not only provided me a facile but ultimately corny segue from the “This is P.O.E.T.S. Day” schtick to the “about the poet” bit, he also included a self-addressed stamped envelope with every submission he sent to a publication so they would not be occasioned a cost to send him an acceptance or refusal letter. He did this even when he was Poet Laureate of England.

John, who I keep typing as James and then backspacing my way to correction, Masefield lost both his parents early and was raised by a, I can only assume, completely bonkers aunt who strongly disapproved of her nephew’s reading addiction. To keep him from falling deeper into the hell of what I can only assume was an acceptance or internalizing of what his aunt thought of reading, he hopped on the HMS Conway to keep himself busy with things other than books at age thirteen but quickly found that at sea he had more time to read and thus The Royal Navy enabled. He started writing too.

He apparently hopped on a private boat and at some point, got sick near Chile and made his way back to England. At twenty-three he married and at twenty-four published arguably his most famous poem, Sea Fever.

I read it in my teens and saw the poem as a desire to escape comfort and see the world. I didn’t come across it again until very recently and from my ancient and bespectacled eyes it came across as juvenile – a fear of planting roots. My reaction to it was as my reaction to reading Catcher In the Rye. As a kid, I thought Holden was cool. As an adult, I wanted to tell him to quit whining. “And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.” Get a job and buy your own damn ship.

A little biographical research and the knowledge that he was recently married to a woman ten-plus years his senior – a woman by all reports that he dearly loved until her death at age ninety-three – made me reconsider. I look at it now as a wistful bon voyage to youth.

Each stanza begins with “I must,” and that seems pretty definitive, but in the second line of the second stanza he writes “a clear call that may not be denied.” He could have said “can” rather than “may” without affecting the rhythm or meter. “Can” probably would have been more pleasing to the ear in a stanza that already included “call,” “call,” “clear,” “call,” “clouds,” and “crying.” I could be wrong, but that “may” stands out. That he calls the poem Sea Fever implies that the whole is something not real, a fevered dream not to be pursued. I look at this as a verse version of Fitzgerald’s line about not wanting to have his innocence back, but wanting the pleasure of losing it again. Both men knew that “long trick’s over.”

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 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 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.


Sea you at the bar soon.

FYI – I’ve gone into the editor and spaced that poem out five times now and no matter how it looks in the editor, no matter how many spaces I put between stanzas, it comes out the same in the finished work. There should be a break every four lines or before the “I must” if that helps. Sorry. I now hate the editorial dashboard so, so very much.

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