Study Guide Prepared by Michael
of Work and Structure
"Sea Fever" is a lyric
poem written in simple language. The poem has three stanzas similar in
structure. For example, each stanza is a quatrain
consisting of two couplets. In addition,
the first line of each stanza begins with the same clause—I must down
to the seas again—followed by a prepositional phrase. Each stanza also
states a request beginning with And all I ask is.
In each stanza, the first
line rhymes with the second to form a couplet, and the third rhymes with
the fourth to form another couplet. The meter is heptameter
with varying types of feet. For example, the stresses in the first line
appear to occur as follows:
i MUST down TO the
SEAS a GAIN, to the LONE ly SEA and the SKY
The shifts in meter throughout
the poem may be taken to suggest the irregular patterns of the rise and
fall of the waves.
Thus, the first line
presents four iambs, followed by an anapest
(to the LONE), an iamb (ly SEA), and another anapest (and the SKY).
may read the second line as follows:
and ALL i ASK is a TALL SHIP
and a STAR to STEER her BY
Here, the line combines
two iambs, two spondees, an anapest, and two more iambs.
Masefield was born in Ledbury, England. After attending King’s School
in Warwick, he went to sea at age fifteen on a large sailing ship, then
worked for a time in New York City before returning to England in 1897.
His experiences aboard the ship provided him the raw material that made
him famous as a sea poet. In 1902, he published a collection of sea poems
entitled Salt-Water Ballads, in which “Sea Fever" appeared.
By John Masefield
I must down1
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 kick2
and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey3
mist on the sea's face and a grey4
I must down5
to the seas again, for the call of the running tide.................................5
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,6
and the sea-gulls crying.
I must down7
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;..............10
And all I ask is a merry
yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet
dream when the long trick's8
must down: Masefield published "Sea Fever" in 1902 without using go
after must in the first line of each stanza. .....Instead,
he used down as a verb. However, he inserted
go at a later
time, thereby changing
down to an adverb and .....altering
the meter of the line. Some published editions of his poems retain
2. wheel's kick:
Sudden left or right jerk of the wheel (steering apparatus, or helm).
3. grey: Some
published editions of Masefield's poem use gray.
4. See 3.
5. See 1.
6. spume: Sea
7. See 1.
8. long trick:
(1) Seaman's job on a given day, such as steering the ship; (2) life
The theme is obvious: wanderlust.
The poem’s speaker hears the call of the sea—an irresistible invitation
to adventure, exploration, and independent living. Most people experience
wanderlust from time to time. Some may wish only to hike through woods
or drive a car in the country. Others may wish to cruise the Caribbean,
fly to Tahiti, or rocket into outer space. Since prehistoric times, humankind
has always been on the move. Maysfield's poem sums up the allure and excitement
of traveling in a yawing ship on rolling, wind-blown seas.
occurs frequently to enhance the appeal of the poem to the ear. Here are
examples: sea and the sky
(line 1), star to steer
(line 2), and gull's way and the
the wind's like a whetted
knife (line 10).
One may interpret the poem
as a metaphor for the journey of life and
the challenges life poses. A type of metaphor, personification (treating
a thing or an idea as if it were human), occurs in line 1 (lonely sea),
line 3 (wind's song), and line 5 (the call of the running tide).
The last line of the poem may be taken literally or figuratively. In the
latter instance, quiet sleep, sweet dream, and the long
trick's over all refer to death.
Questions and Writing Topics
Write an informative essay centering on Masefield's experiences as a seafarer.
Explain how seamen used the stars (line 2) to navigate a ship.
What is meant by vagrant gypsy life (line 9)? Define gypsy
and explain how the word originated.
Identify the simile in the last stanza.
Write a poem about another type of travel—train, bus, airplane,
motorcycle, skateboard, skis, dogsled, spaceship, or a vicarious journey
in an armchair.