Sea Fever (from Salt Water Ballads)
John Masefield (1902)
Masefield’s evocative poem appeared in his first volume of poetry published in 1902 in London by Grant Richards. In his Collected Poems, the first line was changed to ‘I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky’. There have been many parodies written over the years. Here are just two. Mine was written for Radio 4’s ‘Stop the Week’, sung to John Ireland’s music. I had to get permission (which I got) from both the Masefield and Ireland estates before I could perform and broadcast it.
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 gray 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.
Arthur Guiterman (1871-1943)
When Mrs John Masefield and her husband, the author of “I Must Go Down to the Seas Again”, arrived here on a liner, she said to a reporter, “It was too uppy-downy and Mr Masefield was ill.” (News report)
I must go down to the seas again, where the billows romp and reel,
So all I ask is a large ship that rides on an even keel,
And a mild breeze and a broad deck with a slight list to leeward,
And a clean chair in a snug nook and a nice, kind steward.
I must go down to the seas again, the sport of the wind and tide,
As the gray wave and green wave play leapfrog over the side.
And all I want is a glassy calm with a bone-dry scupper,
A good book and a warm rug and a light, plain supper.
I must go down to the seas again, though there I’m a total loss,
And can’t say which is worse, the pitch, the plunge, the roll, the toss.
But all I ask is a safe retreat in a bar well tended,
And a soft berth and a smooth trip till the long trip’s ended.
Jeremy Nicholas (1987)
I must go out to the shed again for another bucket of coal.
For some fur-lined boots and an anorak I would sell my soul.
And all I ask is the plumber will come round this afternoon
And the burst pipe in the bathroom will be mended soon.
I must go up to the loft again, to make it waterproof,
For I have to go to replace the tiles where the snow’s come through the roof.
And all I ask is the telephone man will turn up here,
Then I can ring for the central-heating engineer.
I must go out to the car again, though it’s twenty degrees below.
I don’t know where I should start to dig for it’s buried under the snow
And all I ask when the battery’s flat in a howling Arctic breeze,
Are some jump leads and the A.A. and some anti-freeze.
I must go down to the station now – I’ll have to try, at least –
But the trains haven’t run for a fortnight now and it’s difficult on the piste.
And all I know is that nothing will change, so have no fear –
We’ll all be totally unprepared again when it snows next year.
I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky.
I left my shirt and trousers there and I want to see if they’re dry…