A Poem by John Masefield (1878-1967)
A Study Guide
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings..© 2008
Type 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 SKYThe shifts in meter throughout the poem may be taken to suggest the irregular patterns of the rise and fall of the waves.
John 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
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.
Alliteration 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 whale's way where 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.
Study Questions and Writing Topics
Write an informative essay centering on Masefield's experiences as a seafarer.