John Masefield’s Life
Masefield was born on 1st June, 1878 in Ledbury, Herefordshire, England. His mother died when he was only six years old. He lived with his aunt and father but later his father, who was a solicitor, died due to a mental breakdown. Masefield was not happy with his education at King’s School in Warwick, where he lived as a boarder and left to join the British naval ship HMS Conway to be trained at sea. He spent many years on the ship and spent a lot of time in reading and writing.
During his time on HMS Conway, Masefield developed a passion for storytelling. In 1894, on his first voyage, he went to Chile and experienced sea sickness. He recorded all his experiences about sailing and extreme weather conditions in his notebooks. The beauty of nature inspired him greatly.
In 1895, Masefield went to New York on board a large sailing ship – a windjammer. His strong desire to become a writer and his feeling of hopelessness in sailing overtook him and he decided to desert the ship. He remained a vagrant for many years. He did many jobs around New York including bar keeping and working in a carpet factory. During this time, he used to buy twenty books in a week and devoured classical and modern literature. He derived his inspiration from Dumas, Hazlitt, Thomas Browne, Dickens, R. L. Stevenson, Kipling, Chaucer, Keats and Shelley.
He was only 23 when he met Constance Crommelin who was 12 years older than he was. They got married and had two children. Subsequently, his poems were published in journals and periodicals in the form of a collection which contains the popular poem of which he is known for, “Sea Fever”. By the age of seventy, Masefield slowed down his pace due to bad health.
John Masefield’s Works
Poems of Masefield were first published in periodicals at the age of 24. His first collection of poems was, “Salt-Water Ballads”. This collection included “Cargoes” and “Sea Fever”. The latter of which became his identity.
His first long narrative poem “The Everlasting Mercy” surprised literary pundits due to his use of phrases with colloquial coarseness. He wrote more narrative poems including, “Dauber“and “The Widow in the Bye Street”. These poems became very popular and critics praised his writings. As a result, he received an important prize, the Edmund de Polignac in 1912.
Masefield wrote adventurous novels like Sard Harker, Odtaa and Basilissa. He wrote classic children novels, such as “The Box of Delights” and “The Midnight Folk”. He also wrote many other popular novels, among these are ‘Multitude and Solitude”, “Lost Endeavour”, “The Bird of Dawning “, “Eggs and Baker “. He also wrote poetic dramas. Two of these are “The Tragedy of Nan” and “The Tragedy of Pompey the Great”.
John Masefield’s Style and Popular Poems
John Masefield is classic in his style. “Ballads and Poems”, “Daffodil Fields”, “Beauty”, “Sonnets”, ”King Cole and Other Poems”,” The Dream and Other Poems”,” The Country Scene”,” The Bluebells and Other Verses”, “Old Raiger and Other Verses”,” Captain Stratton’s Fancy”, “A Ballad of John Silver”, “By a Bier-Side” and “A Night At Dago Tom’s”.
More about Masefield
During World War I, Masefield could have been exempted (due to his age) from military service. Yet, he went to join as a medical orderly on the Western Front. After which, he was able to publish about his experiences there.
Later, he visited the United States to deliver lectures on English Literature. However, there was another purpose to the visit, which was to get detailed information about the views and moods of Americans on the matter of war in Europe.
On his return to England, he reported to the British Foreign Office and he requested that they allow him to write a book about the Allied military failure in the Dardanelles that could possibly be employed in the United States to respond to what he considered was German propaganda.. He was given permission to write and he wrote a book entitled “Gallipoli”. This work was successful. It helped lift the British people from the sadness they felt due to the terrible Allied losses.
Three world-renowned universities (Yale, Harvard and Oxford) granted Masefield honorary degrees. In 1918, when he did another lecture tour in America, Yale and Harvard presented him honorary Doctorates of Letters. Oxford awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Literature in 1921.
Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald recommended Masefield to King George V to be the Poet Laureate to replace Robert Bridges. Masefield got the position. He became Poet Laureate and held the office for about 37 years (until he died in 1967).