Sunday 17 December 2017

Poetry Ulick O'Connor: A debt to womankind

Ulick O'Connor
Ulick O'Connor

Ulick O'Connor

This year is the 50th anniversary of the death of John Masefield, whom some look on as England's finest poet of the first half of the 20th Century.

He had many friends in Ireland and used to stay in Lady Gregory's house, Coole Park. His name is carved on one of the trees on the grounds along with John Millington Synge, George Bernard Shaw and Douglas Hyde.

Masefield's best-known poem is 'Sea Fever'. Here is a verse of it. Notice how the rhythm changes and you are carried forward with the impetus of a ship taking full sail in the wind.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

And the wheel's kick and wind's song and the white sail's shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

But for me, one of Masefield's finest poems was 'To His Mother', in which he acknowledges his debt to her and womankind.

In the dark womb where I began

My mother's life made me a man.

Through all the months of human birth

Her beauty fed my common earth.

I cannot see, nor breathe, nor stir,

But through the death of some of her.

If the grave's gates could be undone,

She would not know her little son,

I am so grown. If we should meet,

She would pass by me in the street,

Unless my soul's face let her see

My sense of what she did for me.

What have I done to keep in mind

My debt to her and womankind?

Men triumph over women still,

Men trample women's rights at will,

And man's lust roves the world untamed.

O grave, keep shut lest I be shamed!

John Masefield 1878-1967

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