After suffering bouts of seasickness and sunstroke, as well as a nervous breakdown, he deserted his ship in New York in 1895. In America, he lived as a vagrant for a time, but then found work in a tavern and, later, in a carpet factory. He returned to England in 1897.
He went to work as a bank clerk, but then decided to become a poet. His life at sea provided him with the poems that were collected in Salt-Water Ballads (1902), the book that established his reputation. The rest is, as they say, history: he was appointed Poet Laureate in 1930, and served in that position until his death in 1967.
His work is now neglected, which is unfortunate. Yet, a four-line poem by him continues to find its way into anthologies.
Eric Hesketh Hubbard (1892-1957), "The Cuckmere Valley, East Sussex"
I have seen flowers come in stony places
And kind things done by men with ugly faces,
And the gold cup won by the worst horse at the races,
So I trust, too.
John Masefield, Poems (1946).
I suspect that "An Epilogue" is too non-ironic for "modern" sensibilities (such as they are). No surprise there. It has its source in deeply-felt, non-ironic experience, which always seems to puzzle and befuddle "moderns." The following poem provides a hint of that experience.
Tramping at night in the cold and wet, I passed the lighted inn,
And an old tune, a sweet tune, was being played within.
It was full of the laugh of the leaves and the song the wind sings;
It brought the tears and the choked throat, and a catch to the heart-strings.
And it brought a bitter thought of the days that now were dead to me,
The merry days in the old home before I went to sea --
Days that were dead to me indeed. I bowed my head to the rain,
And I passed by the lighted inn to the lonely roads again.
John Masefield, Salt-Water Ballads (1902).
George Mackley (1900-1983), "Brackie's Burn, Northumberland"