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.
I could sit here pulling this poem apart and analysing each and every syllable, praising the alliteration, unearthing obtuse meanings and criticizing the punctuation. I could also sit here without writing a thing and leave you to take whatever you want from it – because if this poem does not speak to you in some way, then you are looking at the wrong blog.
There has not been a time in my memory that I have not known this poem. Having grown up by the sea, breathed its salt caked air, swam in, sailed on and walked daily along its seaweed strewn edge, it has always been and always will be a part of me. Living away from its undulating and ever-changing presence is difficult – I feel dislocated.
An old blue-cloth hardback copy of The Salt Water Ballads is where I know this poem from, as well as Cargoes and other descriptions of a life afloat or on the road. They give us the warm glow of a past that is easy for us to Romanticize. Masefield worked on sailing ships across the Atlantic, it gave him time to read and write, but his urge to become a writer and his disillusionment with the life at sea made him desert ship in New York. He lived for a while as wanderer, passing from job to job before turning to poetry, returning home to England and gaining success by channelling his life’s experience into his work.
Is it due to these simple words that even now I long for a vagrant gypsy life… In mad fanciful moments I wish to give up the pretense of respectability and the false security of ‘things’ which have made us all soft and weak, give it all up and follow the call of the running tide before the long trick is well and truly over…