I'd suggest that simple but effective writing is the answer. Here is the crafted prose of a poet and the wonderfully evocative poems of a master wordsmith.
This collection concentrates on one (obvious) subject of Masefield's output and provides both poetry and prose on the sea. The scope is breath-taking, from early (and hugely memorable) ballads to reflective second world war verse. The short stories are a revelation and are beautifully condensed yarns or reflections. The `other prose' includes an autobiographical piece (compare this with Masefield's romanticised view of the sea) and chunks from some of the novels. An essay on `Chanties' is historically valuable, there are book reviews of Conrad by his only sea-going contemporary and even an extract from The Box of Delights.
Hugely recommended and evidence for Masefield's popularity. One hopes that books like this will help re-establish a reputation which Masefield richly deserves.
I bought this book hoping to find some old Masefield favourites on the sea. I got these, of course, but the book itself is a revelation. Stop reading this review and buy a copy - it's fantastic!
The volume is made up of four parts: poetry, short stories, other prose and (short) extracts from novels. The poetry speaks for itself: here are all the favourites from the Poet Laureate (`Sea Fever', `Cargoes', etc., etc.) together with some less familiar pieces which I didn't know. Then there are the short stories. I, for one, didn't know there WERE any short stories by John Masefield. But here they are! All with the detailed observation and the beautiful descriptions of a poet. Yet, that's not to suggest they're all dewy-eyed miniatures on the sea; they're funny, violent, and poignant too. The other prose includes a long autobiographical story by Masefield about his first voyage. This - alone - is worth the cost of the book. It is, apparently, "hitherto unpublished". Why? Where's this been sitting for over 100 years? The editor notes his source as "private collection" and shame on whoever has kept this gem squirreled away! There are other bits included in `other prose' too: Masefield's book reviews of Conrad, sketches of other great sea writers (Marryat and Melville, etc.) and an article on sea shanties (which Masefield insists on calling "chanties" for some reason). That's a bit irritating, actually... Finally there are some short extracts from novels and, just to put a cherry on the icing on the cake, there's even a bit from The Box of Delights!
Penguin Classics have done John Masefield proud. There's an introduction and full notes by the editor, Philip W. Errington. He certainly seems to know his stuff and the notes explain all sorts of weird and wonderful nautical allusions. I recently bought a book about naval sayings. I shouldn't have bothered - I learned more from this book!
So, as a collection of "Sea Poetry and Prose" how do I rate it? This book deserves to be read by anyone who's ever felt the "call of the running tide". But it also should be read by anyone with any interest in English literature or anyone who simply enjoys a good read. I had to learn some Masefield at school and had assumed that was probably all there was to him. How wrong was I? This is a fantastic book and given the full Penguin Classics treatment. Just buy it now!
As Kipling was to the humble British soldier so was Masefield to the men of the sea. In his writing he talks always of the allure of the sea life- the companionship, the yarns, the thrill of adventure and the beauty of sights seen and experiences felt, things that land folk can only dream of. But against all that is the unending hard work, the threat of drowning and depredations brought on by hard driving ships mates and damp quarters. Sea life was for Masefield, something to admire from a distance.
His writing be in prose or poetry is deeply imbued with a fascination for all things nautical. Such is the power of expression and knowledge of his subject, it is easy for the reader to be swept away in a similar fashion. His characters and scenes, tales and reflects have the stuff of real life. There is a sense of wonder mixed with a melancholic almost gothic sensibility, allied to a deep sympathy for the author’s subjects. All that he describes we can imagine, it rings true. Who cannot be affected by poems lie ‘Sea-fever’, ‘Cargos’ and ‘The Greenwich Pensioner’? Who cannot wish to read more of Masefield’s autobiography of his early days at sea? Who does not read his thoughts on Melville and Conrad and feel that that here is a man that is capable of insight?
This is one superb collection: wonderful stories, interesting reviews and well-chosen excerpts that make you wish for more. Great for bedtime reading-entertaining, unpretentious and engaging. Highly recommended.