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;
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.
I must go 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.
I must go down 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;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
John Masefield (1878 – 1967)
From SALT-WATER POEMS AND BALLADS, by John Masefield, published by the Maxmillan Co., NY, © 1913, p. 55; the poem was first published in SALT-WATER BALLADS, © 1902.
Well the sea is repetitive … the sea is repeated in line 1 … and there are many lines with repetitions to enhance the rhythmic structure of the poem. Incidentally I always thought the first line was – I must go down to the sea but this is not the case for it is seas. This phrase is repeated at the start of each stanza.
Equally there is plenty of alliteration for instance in the last stanza – To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife.
It is all about the lure of the sea and the joy of sailing and appreciating sea, sky and wind first hand. This is very much an atmospheric poem with plenty of word action. And many enjoy the experience of wind and sea on skin as invoked in the second stanza. At the same time there is some element of control and purpose as the sailing ship ploughs through the waves.
It is a poem with much imperative the want to follow your heart’s desire and follow your life joy.
The last line may be difficult to understand – I think there is an ask for a restful quiet sleep after a stint of duty for a ‘trick’ is also a sailing term and refers to a watch at sea of four hours.
This is a well-known poem, perhaps one reason is that it is suitable for children to recite and I am sure I first heard it at primary school.
John Masefield was Poet laureate from 1930 till his death in 1967 … a Wikipedia Link.