The first poem I ever loved was Sea Fever by John Masefield. Something about the opening lines intrigued me, although I was too young to understand why. For years, I thought it was the jaunty rhythm, the romantic imagery.
It was only later I began to understand the nature of compulsion; the need to return to a place over and over. For me, like the sailor in Masefield’s poem, that place is the sea.
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’m lucky to live close to the sea: a five-minute drive brings me to Sandymount Strand; a fifteen-minute drive to Dollymount. On days when I can’t decide which side of the bay I want to be on, I walk to the Red Lighthouse and stand in the middle.
I have no desire to board a ship. Or travel. To me, the sea is most lovely when I’m walking beside it, tasting its sting. (These days, I’m not so enamoured of regular rhythm, at least in poetry. But the regular rhythm of the sea? Absolutely.)
I must go 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 find a particular pleasure in standing on the shore, watching the ships come and go. The ships are mostly car ferries or container ships, but every now and then the Tall Ships arrive and Masefield’s poem comes alive before my eyes.
I must go 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.
The Tall Ships are due back in Dublin this summer, and my son is hoping to crew on one of them.
I must show him Masefield’s poem.