John Masefield’s poem “Sea Fever” is a work of art that brings beauty to the English language through its use of rhythm, imagery, and many complex figures of speech. The meter in “Sea Fever” follows the movement of the tall ship in rough water through its use of iambs and hard-hitting spondees.
Although written primarily in iambic meter, the meter in “Sea Fever” varies throughout the poem. The imagery in “Sea Fever” suggests an adventurous ocean that appeals to all five senses. Along with an adventurous ocean, “Sea Fever” also sets a mood of freedom through the imagery of traveling gypsies.
Perhaps, the most complex part of this poem is the use of personification and metaphor. These figures of speech go beyond the meter and imagery to compare life to a sea voyage and portray a strong longing for the sea.
The two main themes of “Sea Fever” bring the reader closer to the sea and help the reader understand why the speaker must return to the sea. “Sea Fever” not only depicts a strong longing for the sea through its theme, but also through the use of complex figures of speech, imagery, and meter.
“Sea Fever” is an excellent example of a varied meter that follows the actions of a tall ship through high seas and strong wind. Lines one and two contain the common iambic meter found throughout the poem. “Sea Fever” may be categorized as a sea chantey due to its iambic meter and natural rhythm which gives it a song-like quality.
This song-like quality is created through the use of iambic meter and alliteration. For example, lines three and ten contain the repeated consonant sound of the letter “w”. In line three, the meter becomes spondaic through the use of strongly stressed syllables. These spondees suggest the repeated slapping of waves against the bow of the ship.
As a result, John Masefield creates an image of powerful ocean swells. In addition to the meter suggesting the repeated slap of the waves, “the wheel’s kick” is a reference to the ship’s steering wheel spinning out of control. To further support the theory of the waves slapping against the bow, “The wheels kick” suggests that the tall ship is traversing very stormy seas.
Through the combining of iambic and spondaic meter, “Sea Fever” not only gains a magnificent rhythm but gives clues into the location and movement of the tall ship. Perhaps, the most striking characteristic of “Sea Fever” is the remarkable imagery seen on each line throughout the poem. Images of a “gray mist” and a “gray dawn breaking” bring the poem to life by appealing to the senses.
The powerful images bring the reader to the ocean and help the reader understand the strong longing the speaker has for the sea. Through the use of descriptive adjectives, the effectiveness of Masefield’s imagery is increased. Specifically, words such as “whetted” and “flung” help create a realistic picture of the sea. Images of a “wild call” and a “clear call that may not be denied” describe a longing that is shared between the speaker and the ocean.
Finally, images of a “lonely sea” and a “vagrant gypsy life” bring a mood of freedom and independence to the poem. Through the use of vivid descriptions and strong images of the sea, Masefield helps the reader to understand why the speaker must return to the sea.
Through the use of complex figures of speech, “Sea Fever” is transformed from an ordinary poem to a masterpiece. Masefield adds figures of speech such as personification, to bring detailed descriptions of the ship and sea to the reader. In line four, the sea is personified when the water’s surface is referred to as the “sea’s face”.
In addition to personification, Masefield uses several similes and metaphors that increase the effectiveness of the already strong imagery. The simile “the winds like a whetted knife”, appeals to the senses and helps the reader feel the cold wind blowing. The similes and metaphors seen in “Sea Fever” are easily recognized, but their meanings and implications may be viewed as anything but shallow or irrelevant to the poetic style of Masefield.
One example of a metaphor is in line nine when the speaker compares “the vagrant gypsy life” to the ocean. “Sea Fever” is dominated by implied metaphors comparing the speaker’s life to the sea. For example, the word “trick” in line ten implies that the speaker’s life has been like a sea voyage.
The complex metaphors increase the emotional tone of “Sea Fever” and help the reader relate to the speaker’s passion for the sea. Through the use of figures of speech such as personification, simile, and metaphor, the poem is enhanced by further development of the theme and the imagery. From the intensity of the speaker’s feelings, two themes have created that complement each other.
First, a theme of longing for freedom and an adventurous ocean is developed. Although not the only theme, it is very recognizable and easily found after the initial reading of the poem. For example, this yearning for the sea can easily be seen in the refrain “I must go down to the seas again”. The title “Sea Fever”, shows the speaker’s hunger for an adventurous and free life.
This hunger for life is also seen through references to the freedom of a seagull and a whale in line ten. Equally important, Masefield uses strong metaphors to create a theme of life resembling a sea voyage. In line twelve, the speaker asks for a “quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over”.
The speaker is implying that life is a long sea journey and is requesting a peaceful afterlife. These two themes work together to convey the speaker’s passionate feelings for the sea and help the reader to further understand the sea’s importance to the speaker. “Sea Fever” uses meter, imagery, and figures of speech so effectively that the reader is brought to the sea.
The iambic and spondaic meter along with alliteration give “Sea Fever” a natural rhythm that coincides with the movement of the sea. The refrain “I must go down to the seas again” is one of the many poetic devices used to show the strong longing the speaker has for the sea. Equally important, the dynamic imagery is seen practically on each line throughout the poem. The images in “Sea Fever” are strengthened through the use of figurative language.
Masefield uses personification and similes to add vivid details of the wind, ship, and sea. Perhaps, the most puzzling element of “Sea Fever” is the implied metaphors. Furthermore, the simple themes in “Sea Fever”, consist of the longing the speaker has for the sea and the comparison of life to a sea voyage.
In conclusion, “Sea Fever” employs meter, imagery, and figurative language to help strengthen the themes and help the reader gain an understanding of the speaker’s desire to return to the sea.
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