Biography John Masefield
- Time Period1878 - 1967
Masefield was born in Ledbury, in Herefordshire, to George Masefield, a solicitor and Caroline. His mother died giving birth to his sister when Masefield was only 6 and he went to live with his aunt. His father died soon after. After an unhappy education at the King's School in Warwick (now known as Warwick School), where he was a boarder between 1888 and 1891, he left to board the HMS Conway, both to train for a life at sea, and to break his addiction to reading, of which his Aunt thought little. He spent several years aboard this ship and found that he could spend much of his time reading and writing. It was aboard the Conway that Masefields love for story-telling grew. While on the ship, he listened to the stories told about sea lore. He continued to read, and felt that he was to become a writer and story teller himself.
In 1894, Masefield boarded the Gilcruix, destined for Chile, this first voyage bringing him the experience of sea sickness and a taste of fierce weather. He recorded his experiences while sailing through the extreme weather: it was obvious from his journal entries that he delighted in viewing flying fish, porpoises, and birds, and was awed by the beauty of nature, including a rare sighting of a nocturnal rainbow on his voyage. Upon reaching Chile, Masefield suffered from sunstroke and was hospitalized. He eventually returned home to England as a passenger aboard a steam ship.
In 1895, Masefield returned to sea on a windjammer destined for New York City. However, the urge to become a writer and the hopelessness of life as a sailor overtook him, and in New York, he deserted ship. He lived as a vagrant for several months, before returning to New York City, he did many odd jobs where he was able to find work as an assistant to a bar keeper.
For the next two years, Masefield was employed in a carpet factory, where long hours were expected and conditions were far from ideal. He purchased up to 20 books a week, and devoured both modern and classical literature. His interests at this time were diverse and his reading included works by Du Maurier, Dumas, Thomas Browne, Hazlitt, Dickens, Kipling, and R. L. Stevenson. Chaucer also became very important to him during this time, as well as poetry by Keats and Shelley.
When Masefield was 23, he met his future wife, Constance Crommelin, who was 35. Educated in classics and English Literature, and a mathematics teacher, Constance was a perfect match for Masefield despite the difference in age. The couple had two children (Judith, born in 1904, and Lewis, in 1910).
By 24, Masefields poems were being published in periodicals and his first collected works, "Salt-Water Ballads" was published. "Sea Fever" appeared in this book. Masefield then wrote two novels, "Captain Margaret" (1908) and "Multitude and Solitude" (1909). In 1911, after a long drought of poem writing, he composed "The Everlasting Mercy".
"The Everlasting Mercy" was the first of his narrative poems, and within the next year, Masefield produced two more narrative poems, "The Widow in the Bye Street" and "Dauber". As a result of the writing of these three poems, Masefield became widely known to the public and was praised by critics, and in 1912, the annual Edmund de Polignac prize was bestowed upon Masefield.
In 1930, due to the death of Robert Bridges, a new Poet Laureate was needed. Many felt that Rudyard Kipling was a likely choice. However, upon the recommendation of Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, King George V appointed Masefield, who remained in office until his death in 1967. The only person to remain in the office for a longer period was Tennyson.
In 1932, Masefield was commissioned to write a poem to be set to music by the Master of the King's Musick, Sir Edward Elgar and performed by choir and orchestra at the unveiling of the Queen Alexandra Memorial by the King on 8 June 1932: this was the ode "So many true Princesses who have gone".
Although the requirements of Poet Laureate had changed, and those in the office were rarely required to write verse for special occasions, Masefield took his appointment seriously and produced a large quantity of verse. Poems composed in his official capacity were sent to The Times. Masefields humility was shown by his inclusion of a stamped envelope with each submission so that his composition could be returned if it were found unacceptable for publication.
After his appointment, Masefield received many honours, including the Order of Merit by King George V. He was the recipient of many more honorary degrees from Universities throughout the United Kingdom, and in 1937 he was elected President of the Society of Authors.
Masefield encouraged the continued development of English literature and poetry, and began the annual awarding of the Royal Medals for Poetry for a first or second published edition of poetry by a poet under the age of 35. Additionally, his speaking engagements were calling him further away, often on much longer tours, yet he still produced a veritable amount of work.
It was not until about the age of 70, that Masefield slowed his pace due to illness. But even then, he continued to learn new things, and took a greater interest in classical music. In 1960, Constance died at 93, after a long illness. Masefield was constantly at Constances side, and although her death was heartrending to him, he had spent a very tiring year watching the woman he adored die. He continued his duties faithfully as Poet Laureate, and even his other literary works continued. His last published book, "In Glad Thanksgiving", was published when he was 88 years old.
On 12 May 1967, John Masefield died, after having suffered through a spread of gangrene up his leg.