It has not been the fashion in recent years for poets to be tellers of tales. The experimenters with the poetic art have broken words and thoughts into twisted fragments and symbols, often grotesque and cryptic, perhaps in order to simulate the vast confusion of our time. The gift of poetic song has almost passed from us. But in all generations there have been some bards who have been constrained to tell in memorable cadence their tales of high adventure, of noble triumphs of the human spirit or of tragic loss.

One of that ageless breed of poets is John Masefield, since 1930 poet laureate of England. Probably his name will always be associated chiefly with ships and the men who go down to the sea in ships, but his poetry covers a wide range of human experience on the good green earth of England as well as on the rolling deep.

It was natural that in the beginning he should have drawn his poetry from the sea he loved and from the lives of the common men he knew. Born in Herefordshire in 1878 and orphaned early in childhood, he was brought up by an aunt. At thirteen he began to prepare for the merchant marine service aboard the training ship “Conway.” Two years later he was in the service, sailing before the mast, a sensitive and artistic boy among hardened seamen. The record of his experiences at sea he wove eventually into a long narrative poem, Dauber, which is the finest account in English poetry of the lovely grace of sailing ships, of the beauty and terror of the sea, and of the courage and cruelty and inarticulate pity of seamen.

Here in the tale of a young artist tormented by callous sailors and overwhelmed by the sea’s violence, and again in such a tragic story as The Widow in the Bye Street, Masefield demonstrates his ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.