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Sea Fever
A Poem by John Masefield (1878-1967)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work and Structure
Rhyme and Meter
Background
Poem Text and Notes
Theme
Alliteration
Imagery
Questions, Writing Topics
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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings.. 2008
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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

Rhyme and Meter

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
Thus, the first line presents four iambs, followed by an anapest (to the LONE), an iamb (ly SEA), and another anapest (and the SKY).

One 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.

The shifts in meter throughout the poem may be taken to suggest the irregular patterns of the rise and fall of the waves. 

Background

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.


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Sea Fever
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 dawn breaking. 

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 over.

Notes
1...I 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 go
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 foam; froth.
7.  See 1.
8.  long trick: (1) Seaman's job on a given day, such as steering the ship; (2) life 


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Theme

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.

Use of Alliteration

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).

Imagery

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

1. Write an informative essay centering on Masefield's experiences as a seafarer. 
2. Explain how seamen used the stars (line 2) to navigate a ship.
3. What is meant by vagrant gypsy life (line 9)? Define gypsy and explain how the word originated.
4. Identify the simile in the last stanza. 
5. Write a poem about another type of travel—train, bus, airplane, motorcycle, skateboard, skis, dogsled, spaceship, or a vicarious journey in an armchair.

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