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John Masefield

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.

From Magma No. 32, Summer 2005

John Masefield (1878-1967) was English Poet Laureate from 1930-1967 and published Sea-Fever in 1902. Masefield published it originally with the title hyphenated, and the opening line of each stanza beginning, “I must down to the seas again…”. Not “go down”. And that’s how it appears once again in Carcanet’s new edition of Masefield’s Collected Poems. But in between, generations of British schoolchildren have learnt it as, “I must go down to the seas again…” Which is exactly how Knox-Johnston learnt it, and still recites it!