“I must go down to the seas again” begins probably the most well know poem heralding tall ships, written in 1902 by John Masefield, an Englishman and Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1930 until his death in 1967. Masefield was sent to sea as a young boy by his aunt, to train him for a life on the sea and to break his much frowned-upon addiction to reading and writing. Once on board the HMS Conway, he found nothing but time and encouragement to read and write, being deeply inspired by the myriad of sailors lore, passed down to him from the old salts. His next commission was on the sailing ship Gilcruix, destined for Chile. This voyage was to have a profound effect on his writing. He recorded his experiences while sailing through the extreme weather, his journal entries reflecting a delight in seeing flying fish, porpoises, and
birds, and was awed by the beauty of nature, including a rare sighting of a nocturnal rainbow on his voyage. After being hospitalized for sunstroke he returned to England, and then on to New York city where he deserted his ship to pursue a career in writing. His first tome of poems, Salt-Water Ballads, and the famous poem, Sea Fever, attest to the immeasurable influence tallship sailing had on him.
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.