The Galley-Rowers – John Masefield

The Galley-Rowers
Staggering over the running combers
The long-ship heaves her dripping flanks,
Singing together, the sea-roamers
Drive the oars grunting in the banks.
A long pull,
And a long long pull to Mydath.
"Where are ye bound, ye swart sea-farers,
Vexing the grey wind-angered brine,
Bearers of home-spun cloth, and bearers
Of goat-skins filled with country wine?"
"We are bound sunset-wards, not knowing,
Over the whale's way miles and miles,
going to Vine-Land, haply going
To the Bright Beach of the Blessed Isles.
"In the wind's teeth and the spray's stinging
Westward and outward forth we go,
Knowing not whither nor why, but singing
An old old oar-song as we row.
A long pull,
And a long long pull to Mydath."

John Masefield (1878 – 1967)

John Masefield is known for the opening line … I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky …  from his poem ‘Sea Fever’. He was Poet Laureate from 1930 – 1967.

This is another sea poem based on long boats powered by galley rowers. In times gone by galley-slaves were convicted criminals, prisoners of war or actual slaves. And the poem reflects songs sung by the rowers. A long pull, and a long long pull mirror the physicality of rowing. I equate Mydath to death as many died but it could be metaphoric too.

The second stanza asks the question of their destination. They are swart sea-farers in other words swarthy and presumably muscular especially those that survived years of rowing. And the reply is to Vine-Land and to the Bright Beach of the Blessed Isles which equates to an escape to paradise. And as they are rowers finding a bright beach and an island is appropriate all be it in the mind.

The last stanza stresses the togetherness in song independent of the why and where of the journey. And the rhythmic flowing words accompany the movement of the oars. A great example of using words, poetry and song are in harmony with repetitive physical activity.

So how much does words, poetry, song and indeed music help us in the struggle in life?

John Masefield on Wikipedia.