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Yet, not gifted for actualistic tales in verse like Masefield and Gibson, but inclined toward a poetry of vision, he had exceptional need of a structured outlook on life to give shape and concrete fullness to his mystic imagination. By 1913 he had come to feel that his poetry was centrally purposeless and drifting. His journey in that year to America and the South Seas, though he entered with his customary zest into all the new experiences, was urged by inward restlessness and accompanied by self-scrutiny of sombre trend. His fine and exacting spirit demanded, and could not find, a fruitful way ahead. But the War brought him vocation, and peace. His strong love of poetry and of living turned all to love of his country. His sonnet on “The Soldier” proved prophetic. He died of disease in the Ægean Sea, as naval lieutenant on his way to fateful Gallipoli, and lies buried in the island of Skyros — in that earth rich with poetic tradition, “a richer dust concealed.” With the two sonnets may be read the following fragment of an elegy jotted down by Brooke during the voyage to the East:

“He wears The ungathered blossom of quiet; stiller

he Than a deep well at noon, or lovers

met; Than sleep, or the heart after wrath.

He is The silence following great words of


John Masefield grew up in the West of England. While still a lad, he learned, by serving before the mast, the drudgery, the privations, and the dangers of a sailor's life; but he never lost his passion for the sea and for ships, as many fine poems written in later years attest (see Salt Water Ballads, "Ships," "Dauber”). After a good deal of knocking around the world as sailor, farm-hand, and at one time bar-tender — he adopted the profession of letters and settled in Berkshire; and since about 1912 he has been generally recognized as one of the two or three outstanding figures among contemporary English-speaking poets.

In 1896, living at the time in Yonkers, N.Y., Masefield first began to read poetry, as he says, “with passion and system.” It was Chaucer who opened his eyes to "what poetry could be”; but others, — especially Keats, Shelley, Milton, and Shakespeare,

– enlarged a native capacity for feeling and expression in which reverence for the authentic tradition of English poetry has been united with indubitable originality. Like Conrad in fiction, he is at once realistic and romantic. The quest of beauty, the glamor of romance, which is felt in such a lyric as “Tewkesbury Road” (page 652), is certainly no stronger in Masefield than his attachment to quiet English fields and countrysides, and all those “heartfelt things past-speaking dear” which make up for humble men the life of the emotions and the spirit. In this intensity of feeling for the soil and the simple lives lived closest to it, Masefield is like his contemporaries A. E. Housman and W. W. Gibson, and even reminds one now and again of Burns and Wordsworth.

Masefield's characteristics

HEAVEN A kind of satire barely suggested in the preceding poem is full blown here. See the note on Stevenson's "Celestial Surgeon,” above. — Compare the central idea and the opening situation of Browning's “Caliban” (page 463). Compare also Hunt's "The Fish, the Man, and the Spirit" (page 233). (651.) 9-14. One may not doubt etc.: The allusions to "In Memoriam, (page 336).

22. Squamous: covered with scales.

34. no more land: Compare the ironic motto to Kipling's “Last Chantey" (page 637), and see the note on it.





fully exhibited in a series of long narrative poems: “The Everlasting Mercy" (1911), ‘The Widow in the Bye-Street,” “Dauber” (1912), “Reynard the Fox," "Enslaved,” and "Right Royal" (1920), "King Cole" (1921), and others. With these may be mentioned the poetic drama “Philip the King" (1914). The themes are varied, and the quality uneven.

The earlier narratives, notably “The Widow in the ByeStreet,” suffer from prolixity, unsuitability of stanzaic form, uncouthness of language, or an excess of the humanitarian impulse

flaws not wholly compensated for by passages of great power and beauty, like that containing Saul Kane's vision of Christ the Plowman at the end of "The Everlasting Mercy.” (Compare this poem with Wordsworth's “Peter Bell”; see the note under "Simon Lee,” page 657, above.) But, outgrowing any unsoundness in the substance of his art as he perfected its expression, Masefield has achieved a mastery of rapid yet sustained story-telling, an almost Chaucerian command of telling phrase, and often a superbly lyrical handling of the great moments of action. Other writers, among them Alfred Noyes and W. W. Gibson, have had a share in the recent revival of the long narrative poem, but none has yet equalled the brilliant performance of Masefield in his masterpiece, “Reynard the Fox.”

Though an admirer of Whitman, Masefield has avoided the fast-and-loose rhythms of the American poet's disciples. His ear is attuned to traditional English stanzas, and for the most part he has employed well-tried metrical forms, such as ballad stanzas made popular by Kipling, the heroic couplet, and the octosyllabic couplet. The seven-line stanza used in “Dauber” and elsewhere is copied from Chaucer. In poetic diction, on the other hand, he has been unconventional, showing no trace of Victorian circumspection in the phrasing of unpleasant facts. Indeed, the roughness of language in his earlier poems was startling to a genera

tion nourished on Tennyson, Longfellow, and Mrs. Browning.

As notable as his advance in narrative verse is Masefield's development in the poetry of reflection, illustrated by the two sonnets in the text. Sensitive to the intellectual and spiritual difficulties of his age and profoundly stirred by the catastrophe of the Great War, in which he performed non-combatant service at the front, he nevertheless is not among the prophets of despair. In this portion of his work he does not always succeed in perfectly articulating his subtle thought; the idea may become so thin-spun or the feeling so complex as to leave the reader groping. But a large number of single passages


handful of entire poems achieve the union of faultless expression with what Masefield himself called, speaking of his great predecessors, “the depth, force, beauty and tenderness of the English mind.”

Masefield has a volume of short plays and several works in prose. In addition to "The Everlasting Mercy" and "Reynard the Fox," already mentioned, students should surely know "August, 1914" (the best of his war poems). Among the finest of his later lyrical and reflective poems are those published in the volume with “Enslaved.”


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