John Masefield


He was born the year British Imperial forces were squaring up to the Zulus and Tennyson’s death was still fourteen years in the offing. He once met someone who had met Napoleon. He held a door for Lenin at the British Museum. He was deemed by Ramsay McDonald to be the natural successor to Robert Bridges, a voice-of-the-voiceless laureate for Britain’s first labour prime minister. He lost his son in WWII. He died the year the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper and Norman Mailer was jailed after Vietnam protests in Washington. More than any poet I can think of, his life and work straddle two irreconcilable worlds.

Nowadays it is difficult to credit his fame. The Everlasting Mercy was declared “nine-tenths sheer filth” by that paragon of piety Lord Alfred Douglas. The 1923 edition of Collected Poems sold eighty thousand copies. It is equally difficult to make any serious critical defense. Even Yeats, who was among his closest literary allies, advised him to sing in music halls.

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