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Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Bringing Beauty to the Speech of Everyday Life

“I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky; and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.” –  John Masefield


Born in England on this date in 1878, Masefield not only wrote the line that so many feel compelled to recite, but also “lived” on the sea, which compelled him to write it in the first place. 


Beginning at age 14, he was sent to the HMS Conway, both to train for a life at sea and to break what his aunt (with whom he lived) called “an addiction to reading.”  She thought he was wasting away his time with his nose buried in books and that time at sea would bring him back to reality.   But, after several years aboard ship, Masefield found that he could spend even more time reading and writing, and his love for books and storytelling didn't wane but grew. He listened to the stories told about the sea, continued to read, and ultimately became a great writer and storyteller himself.

He is best remembered for his classic children's novels The Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights, and for his poems "The Everlasting Mercy" and "Sea-Fever,” from which the line above originates.

After years of writing and teaching writing, he was named Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom in 1930.  Many felt that Rudyard Kipling was a likely choice; but King George V appointed Masefield, who remained in office until his death in 1967. The only person to hold the office longer was Alfred, Lord Tennyson. 
                                   On his appointment The Times of London wrote: "... his poetry could touch to beauty the plain speech of everyday life.”   
A renowned essayist and descriptive writer, too, Masefield’s “way with words” was never more evident than when asked to describe why he enjoyed teaching.  “There are few earthly things more beautiful than a university,” he said.  “It is a place where those who hate ignorance may strive to know, and where those who perceive truth may strive to make others see.”

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