Sea Fever


Sea Fever Essay, Research Paper

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 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 use of complex figures of speech, imagery, and meter.

“Sea Fever” is an excellent example of varied meter which

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 storm 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


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 speakers

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 speakers feelings, two themes are

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 speakers hunger for an

adventurous and free life. This hunger for life is also seen

through references to the freedom of a sea gull 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

speakers 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 speakers 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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