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John Masefield
1912 portrait by William Strang

English poet. He went to sea as a youth, spent several years in the United States. In 1897 he returned to England and was on the staff of the Manchester Guardian. His first volumes of poetry, Salt-Water Ballads (1902), containing "Sea Fever and "Cargoes, and Ballads (1903), earned him the title "Poet of the Sea." It was, however, for his realistic, long narrative poems-The Everlasting Mercy (1911), The Widow in the Bye Street (1912), Dauber (1913), and Reynard the Fox (1919)-that he won his greatest fame. His plays, written in both verse and prose, include The Tragedy of Nan (1909), The Tragedy of Pompey the Great (1910), and The Coming of Christ (1928). Among his novels are Multitude and Solitude (1909), Sard Harker (1924), and The Bird of Dawning (1933). Other works include adventure stories for boys and two war sketches, Gallipoli (1916) and The Nine Days Wonder (1941), and the posthumous volume of poetry In Glad Thanksgiving (1968). He was poet laureate from 1930 until his death and was awarded the Order of Merit in 1935.


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.
Down in the darkness of the grave
She cannot see the life she gave.
For all her love, she cannot tell
Whether I use it ill or well,
Nor knock at dusty doors to find
Her beauty dusty in the mind.
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?
What woman's happier life repays
Her for those months of wretched days?
For all my mouthless body leeched
Ere Birth's releasing hell was reached?
What have I done, or tried, or said
In thanks to that dear woman dead?
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.