John Masefield : Contribution to English Poetry

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      John Masefield (1878-1967), born at Ledbury, in Herefordshire, Masefield embarked early on a wandering life which was to give him first-hand experience of life before the mast and as a menial worker in America. In 1897 he returned to England and joined the staff of the Manchester Guardian. He settled in London and in 1902 began the long stream of publications which brought him fame, and with it the two greatest distinctions open to an English poet; in 1930 he became Poet Laureate, and in 1934 he received the Order of Merit.

Masefield's first poetry was in the vein of Kipling (then at the height of his popularity) - the poetry of action and adventure, but with a Chaucerian breadth of humanity. Salt-water Ballads (1902) began the long line of sea-poems on which much of his popularity still rests.
John Masefield

      Masefield's first poetry was in the vein of Kipling (then at the height of his popularity) - the poetry of action and adventure, but with a Chaucerian breadth of humanity. Salt-water Ballads (1902) began the long line of sea-poems on which much of his popularity still rests. Written from first-hand experience, they blend a sense of the romance and beauty of the sea with a thorough knowledge of seamen. Ballads and Poems (1910) shows developing technical skill, but The Everlasting Mercy (1911) marks a new epoch in his writing. The violent, often crude, realism of this poem in octosyllabic couplets, which deals with the affairs of the drink-sodden Saul Kane and the life of country taverns, is a deliberately shocking protest against the anaemia which afflicted contemporary poetry.

      It was followed in similar vein by The Widow in the Bye Street (1912, The Daffodil Fields (1913), and Lollingdon Downs (1917). Dauber (1913), written under the same impulse, combines with its realism many fine passages which catch the wonder and magic of the sea, while his best narrative poems, Reynard the Fox (1919) and Right Royal (1920), though vigorously realistic, are more natural in tone and show his love for country life, which appears later in the warm beauty of The Land Workers (1943), which gives excellent pictures of the rural England of his youth. Of his other collections of verse mention may be made of Midsummer Night (1928), Collected Poems (1932), End and Beginning (1934), and Wonderings (1943).

      A born story-teller, Masefield had a tremendous zest for life and a broad humanity, and he did much to restore realism to contemporary English poetry. In both narrative and lyric poems his vitality and simple style have a definite appeal, but he rarely touches the deeper levels of human experience, and his verse technique is too often faulty.

       In addition to his poetry, Masefield wrote novels, among them Sard Harker (1924), Odia (1926), The Bird of Dawning (1933): some dozen dramas; and a quantity of miscellaneous prose, including Shakespeare (1911), Gallipoli (1916), and The Battle of the Somme (1919).

       Of his drama it is enough to say that, apart from The Tragedy of Nan (1909), it is of little importance. He has touched on historical and domestic themes, and between 1915 and 1928 he wrote a number of plays, mainly on religious themes, which show clearly the influence of his study of the Japanese No drama. Mention may be made of the following: The Campden Wonder (1907); The Tragedy of Pompey the Great (1910); Good Friday (1917); Melloney Holtspur (1922); The Trial of Jesus (1925); The Coming of Christ (1928).

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