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Trade Winds -- John Masefield

(Poem #555) Trade Winds
 In the harbor, in the island, in the Spanish Seas,
 Are the tiny white houses and the orange trees,
 And day-long, night-long, the cool and pleasant breeze
        Of the steady Trade Winds blowing.

 There is the red wine, the nutty Spanish ale,
 The shuffle of the dancers, the old salt's tale,
 The squeaking fiddle, and the soughing in the sail
        Of the steady Trade Winds blowing.

 And o' nights there's fire-flies and the yellow moon,
 And in the ghostly palm-trees the sleepy tune
 Of the quiet voice calling me, the long low croon
        Of the steady Trade Winds blowing.
-- John Masefield
Masefield is often thought of as (almost exclusively) a 'sea poet', one whose
descriptive prowess and ability to evoke 'atmosphere' far outweigh his
intellectual and emotional insight. The judgement may be slightly unfair - after
all, his verse did turn markedly more introspective and austere after he became
Poet Laureate - but the fact remains that masterpieces like 'Sea Fever' [1],
'Cargoes' [2] and today's poem are likely to be remembered long after his more
'serious' works are forgotten. And rightfully so, in my opinion: Laureates (and
their peculiar brand of poetry) may come and go, but magic like Masefield's
lives on forever.


[1] poem #27
[2] poem #74


  b. June 1, 1878, Ledbury, Herefordshire, Eng.
  d. May 12, 1967, near Abingdon, Berkshire

Poet, best known for his poems of the sea, Salt-Water Ballads (1902, including
"Sea Fever" and "Cargoes"), and for his long narrative poems, such as The
Everlasting Mercy (1911), which shocked literary orthodoxy with its phrases of a
colloquial coarseness hitherto unknown in 20th-century English verse.

Educated at King's School, Warwick, Masefield was apprenticed aboard a
windjammer that sailed around Cape Horn. He left the sea after that voyage and
spent several years living precariously in the United States. His work there in
a carpet factory is described in his autobiography, In the Mill (1941). He
returned to England, worked for a time as a journalist for the Manchester
Guardian, and settled in London. After he succeeded Robert Bridges as poet
laureate in 1930, his poetry became more austere.

Other of Masefield's long narrative poems are Dauber (1913), which concerns the
eternal struggle of the visionary against ignorance and materialism, and Reynard
the Fox (1919), which deals with many aspects of rural life in England. He also
wrote novels of adventure--Sard Harker (1924), Odtaa (1926), and Basilissa
(1940)--sketches, and works for children. His other works include the poetic
dramas The Tragedy of Nan (1909) and The Tragedy of Pompey the Great (1910), as
well as a further autobiographical volume, So Long to Learn (1952). Masefield
was awarded the Order of Merit in 1935.

        -- EB

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He left the sea after that voyage and
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Wonderful poem, hearing this lovely
little poem recited by someone like Masefield adds surprising dimension and meaning. When you then silently reread it, you will be amazed at its sad, subtle beauty.

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