Friday, June 1, 2012

Happy birthday, poet John Masefield

John Masefield
It is the birthday of English poet and novelist John Masefield (1878), who served as Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom for 37 years. He is best known for his poems Sea-Fever (1902) and The Everlasting Mercy (1911) and the children's novels The Midnight Folk (1927) and its sequel, The Box of Delights (1935). Less known, except by scholars, are 19 poetry collections and 24 novels and five plays, plus several non-fiction pieces. Masefield's mother died when he was six and his father died soon after. Young John was educated in boarding schools and then sent to a training ship at 16 to get his voracious reading habit out of his system. On board, he found plenty of time to read and write, and he decided to become a storyteller. Still a teenager, he shipped out on a tall-masted merchant ship bound for New York but he jumped ship when he got there and stayed in America for a couple of years. While in New York, he happened to read a poem by Canadian poet Duncan Campbell Scott that inspired him to become a poet. He worked odd jobs and spent his spare money on books, reading Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, Alexandre Dumas as well as classical literature. When he returned to England, Masefield married, had children, and kept on writing. His first poetry collection, Salt-Water Ballads, appeared when he was 24. The first stanza of Sea-Fever reads: "I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and sky,/And all that 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 gray mist on the sea's face, and a gray dawn breaking."

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