Monday, February 26, 2018

John Masefield

John Masefield (1878—1967) is a significant English poet of the early twentieth century. Both of his parents died when he was a young child. In 1891 he left school to go on board the HMS Conway, where he trained for a life at sea. His aunt thought this would help cure his obsession with reading. Being on board ship, however, gave him plenty of free time to read, and to write; this is where he also learned the joy of story-telling. In 1895 Masefield discovered the poetry of Canadian poet Duncan Campbell Scott, which inspired him to immerse himself in poetry, and eventually to dedicate his life to it.

His first poetry collection Salt-Water Ballads (1902) demonstrates the influence of his time at sea, and includes his famous poem “Sea Fever,” which begins with the lines,
----“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...”

In 1911 he composed the long narrative poem “The Everlasting Mercy” — a poem that tells the story of a drunkard and womanizer named Saul Kane, who experiences a true conversion to Christ. The poem was ground-breaking, in that its character speaks in a colloquial and coarse manner, rather than in refined “poetic” language.

In 1923 an edition of his Collected Poems sold an impressive 80,000 copies. Masefield became Poet Laureate of the UK in 1930, succeeding Robert Bridges. Masefield's cremated remains were placed in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

from The Everlasting Mercy

O Christ who holds the open gate,
O Christ who drives the furrow straight,
O Christ, the plough, O Christ, the laughter
Of holy white birds flying after,
Lo, all my heart’s field red and torn,
And Thou wilt bring the young green corn
The young green corn divinely springing,
The young green corn forever singing;
And when the field is fresh and fair
Thy blessèd feet shall glitter there,
And we will walk the weeded field,
And tell the golden harvest’s yield,
The corn that makes the holy bread
By which the soul of man is fed,
The holy bread, the food unpriced,
Thy everlasting mercy, Christ.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.