Friday, February 22, 2013

Four-Line Poems, Part Two: "So I Trust, Too"

The early life of John Masefield sounds like something out of a novel by Charles Dickens.  He was born in 1878 in Herefordshire, where his father was a successful solicitor.  However, his mother died when he was six, and his father died when he was thirteen.  He was placed in the care of an aunt and uncle, who decided that he should immediately leave school and join the Merchant Navy.

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"

                       An Epilogue

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"


John Ashton said...

Mr Pentz, how delightful to see John Masefield here. His poetry is ,as you point out,almost entirely forgotten today and yet he wrote, in my opinion some quite delightful pieces; " Christmas Eve at sea" and "Tewkesbury Road" being two of my particular favourites. The longer poem " Dauber" also has some good moments too,and he wrote two classics of children's literature; The midnight folk and The box of delights. Your post reminds me that I have'nt looked at my volume of Masefield's collected poetry for a while, I shall be taking that down from my bookshelf over the weekend.Thank you.

B.R. said...

Thanks for these Masefield selections. O, the wonderful (hopefully, timeless) sensibility in: "kind things done by men with ugly faces."

Ringing a slight change on "Personal" - in his poem "On Growing Old" - he talks about remembering "The beauty of fire from the beauty of embers."


Stephen Pentz said...

Mr Ashton: thank you for visiting again, and for your thoughts on Masefield. I do need to explore his longer poems further: I have tended to focus on his shorter lyric poems. In addition to the poems you mention, I also like, in particular, "On Eastnor Knoll," "Twilight," and "The Dead Knight."

After I decided to post "An Epilogue," I have been revisiting his collected poems as well. There are many that I had forgotten.

Thanks again.

Stephen Pentz said...

B. R.: thank you very much for the reference to "On Growing Old." I hadn't read it before, but I have now: it is very nice. I agree: "Only stay quiet while my mind remembers/The beauty of fire from the beauty of embers" is lovely.

I, too, hope that the sensibility expressed in "An Epilogue" is indeed timeless.

As always, I appreciate hearing your thoughts.

Goethe Girl said...

I thought of you and your blog tonight while watching "Angels and Insects." Have you seen it? As always, I find the pictures on your site soul-warming I was glad to read Masefield's "Epilogue."

Stephen Pentz said...

Goethe Girl: it's nice to hear from you again. Thanks for stopping by.

No, I haven't seen "Angels and Insects": but I have always been meaning to. I'll have to check to see if it is available around here.

Yes, I'm fond of "Epilogue" as well. It's one that stays in your memory after a first reading, so it has been rattling around in my head for a while.

Thanks again.

Nico said...

Masefield was indeed a fine poet and my father quoted him frequently for my fifteenth birthday he gave a copy of Masefields experimental "epic poem" The Everlasting Mercy, later parodied amusingly, by Belloc in the Everlasting Percy" but the original was in my view a work of genius a wonderful tale told dramatically so much that one comes away feeling that Saul Kane is known to you and feeling glad of his redemption it is long but deeply personal and worth reading

Stephen Pentz said...

Nico: It's nice to discover someone else who still appreciates Masefield's poetry. How fortunate you are to have had a poetry-loving father. Yes, "The Everlasting Mercy" is quite a poem, isn't it? From what I've read, it caused quite a stir when it was published. For instance, I know that it (and Masefield's other narrative poems) greatly affected Siegfried Sassoon. But I think that a number of Masefield's shorter poems are very fine as well, and I return to them regularly.

Thank you very much for visiting, and for sharing your thoughts.