”Sea Fever” is one of English poet John Masefield’s best-known works. Masefield employs many poetic devices in his lyric poem, effectively conveying the speaker’s wanderlust and love of the seafaring life. A seaman himself, Masefield relied on his own experience to create the vivid imagery of the poem. Figurative language, alliteration, regular rhyme, and even the sing-song rhythm help bring to life the experience of a sailor at sea. Young students of poetry will find this an accessible introduction to many of poetry’s most effective conventions.
”Sea Fever” first appeared in John Masefield’s 1902 poetry collection, Salt-Water Ballads. The collection was influenced by Masefield’s own years spent at sea during his teens. Unhappy at boarding school, Masefield left to become a merchant seaman at the age of 15. His love of the sea and awe of the nature that surrounded him permeate his poetry. Students reading “Sea Fever” will find Masefield’s enthusiasm evident, but may need some background on a few nautical terms listed below.
Wheel’s kick: the jerking left and right movements of the ship’s wheel
Long trick: a period of duty; figuratively death
Star to steer her by: Nautical navigators used to rely on the positions of the stars to determine their location at sea. Sailors would use a tool called a sextant to measure the angle from the horizon to the sun or an evening star. The angle and time of day would then be used to calculate a ship’s latitude.