Their Backs to the Sea: Poems and Photographs

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His mother died giving birth to his sister when Masefield was six and he went to live with his aunt. His father died soon afterwards, following a mental breakdown. He spent several years aboard this ship, and found that he could spend much of his time reading and writing. It was aboard the Conway that Masefield's love of story-telling grew. While he was on the ship he listened to the stories told about sea lore, continued to read, and decided that he was to become a writer and story-teller himself.

I must 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.


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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. In Masefield boarded the Gilcruix , destined for Chile.

This first voyage brought him the experience of sea sickness, but his record of his experiences while sailing through extreme weather shows his delight in seeing flying fish, porpoises and birds. He was awed by the beauty of nature, including a rare sighting of a nocturnal rainbow , on this voyage. On reaching Chile he suffered from sunstroke and was hospitalised. He eventually returned home to England as a passenger aboard a steamship.

In Masefield returned to sea on a windjammer destined for New York City. However, the urge to become a writer and the hopelessness of life as a sailor overtook him, and in New York he jumped ship and travelled throughout the countryside. For several months he lived as a vagrant, drifting between odd jobs, before he returned to New York City and found work as a barkeeper's assistant.

I had never till that time cared very much for poetry, but your poem impressed me deeply, and set me on fire. Since then poetry has been the one deep influence in my life, and to my love of poetry I owe all my friends, and the position I now hold. Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus, Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores, With a cargo of diamonds, Emeralds, amethysts, Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

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Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack, Butting through the Channel in the mad March days, With a cargo of Tyne coal, Road-rails, pig-lead, Firewood, ironware, and cheap tin trays. From "Cargoes", in Ballads [5]. For the next two years Masefield was employed at the huge Alexander Smith carpet factory in Yonkers, New York, where long hours were expected and conditions were far from ideal. He purchased up to 20 books a week, and devoured both modern and classical literature.

Chaucer also became very important to him during this time, as well as Keats and Shelley. Masefield returned home to England in [6] as a passenger aboard a steamship. When Masefield was 23 he met his future wife, Constance de la Cherois Crommelin, who was 35 and of Huguenot descent. Educated in classics and English Literature , and a mathematics teacher, Constance was a good match for him, despite the difference in their ages.

The couple had two children, Judith, born in , and Lewis, born in In Masefield was put in charge of the fine art section of the Arts and Industrial Exhibition in Wolverhampton.


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  4. By thn his poems were being published in periodicals and his first collection of verse, Salt-Water Ballads , was published that year. It included the poem "Sea-Fever". Masefield then wrote two novels, Captain Margaret and Multitude and Solitude In , after a long period of writing no poems, he composed " The Everlasting Mercy ", the first of his narrative poems , and within the next year had produced two more, "The Widow in the Bye Street" and "Dauber".

    As a result, he became widely known to the public and was praised by the critics. In he was awarded the annual Edmond de Polignac Prize. He later published an account of his experiences. At about this time Masefield moved his country retreat from Buckinghamshire to Lollingdon Farm in Cholsey , Berkshire, a setting that inspired a number of poems and sonnets under the title Lollingdon Downs , and which his family used until After returning home Masefield was invited to the United States on a three-month lecture tour. Although his primary purpose was to lecture on English literature, he also intended to collect information on the mood and views of Americans regarding the war in Europe.

    When he returned to England he submitted a report to the British Foreign Office and suggested that he should be allowed to write a book about the failure of the Allied effort in the Dardanelles that might be used in the United States to counter German propaganda there. The resulting work, Gallipoli , was a success. Masefield then met the head of British Military Intelligence in France and was asked to write an account of the Battle of the Somme.

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    Although Masefield had grand ideas for his book, he was denied access to official records and what was intended to be the preface was published as The Old Front Line , a description of the geography of the Somme area. In Masefield returned to America on his second lecture tour, spending much of his time speaking and lecturing to American soldiers waiting to be sent to Europe. These speaking engagements were very successful.

    On one occasion a battalion of black soldiers danced and sang for him after his lecture. During this tour he matured as a public speaker and realised his ability to touch the emotions of his audience with his style of speaking, learning to speak publicly from his own heart rather than from dry scripted speeches. Towards the end of his visit both Yale and Harvard Universities conferred honorary doctorates of letters on him.

    Masefield entered the s as an accomplished and respected writer. His family was able to settle on Boar's Hill , a somewhat rural setting not far from Oxford , where Masefield took up beekeeping , goat-herding and poultry-keeping.

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    He continued to meet with success: the first edition of his Collected Poems sold about 80, copies. A narrative poem, Reynard The Fox , has been critically compared with works by Geoffrey Chaucer , not necessarily to Masefield's credit. After King Cole', Masefield turned away from long poems and back to novels.

    In this same period he wrote a large number of dramatic pieces. Most of these were based on Christian themes, and Masefield, to his amazement, encountered a ban on the performance of plays on biblical subjects that went back to the Reformation and had been revived a generation earlier to prevent production of Oscar Wilde's Salome. However, a compromise was reached and in his "The Coming of Christ" was the first play to be performed in an English cathedral since the Middle Ages.

    In Masefield received an honorary doctorate of literature from the University of Oxford. In he organised Oxford Recitations , an annual contest whose purpose was "to discover good speakers of verse and to encourage 'the beautiful speaking of poetry'. Masefield was similarly a founding member, in , of the Scottish Association for the Speaking of Verse. Myths about physical racial differences were used to justify slavery — and are still believed by doctors today.

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