Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Rhythm: poetry that sticks with you

So,this is Maureen’s fault, because on Twitter yesterday she tweeted lines from “Sea Fever” by John Masefield. You know the poem even if, like me, you have forgotten the title. It’s this one:

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 the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

I bet if someone feeds you the first line, you would be able to get the second, even without this refresher. The poem is just unforgettable. Maybe you can recite the whole first stanza. Some poems are like that: they stick. The rhythm just carries you along. And you know what I thought was: This ought to be set to music. Then I thought: Shoot, I’m positive someone already HAS set this to music. And I was right! So, as a public service, let me direct you to a couple of YouTube clips you might like.

John Ireland’s version

And here’s a less professional guitar arrangement that I actually prefer. I like the lighter tenor of this voice for this particular poem.

While on the subject, you all are familiar with Loreena McKennitt’s version of “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes, right? Here is a YouTube version of that which is well worth your time. Uh, just in case you are not in fact familiar with this poem, let me just mention that it is a tragedy.

One poem I memorized all the way through when I was in high school was “The Bells” by Edgar Allen Poe. I just loved the sound of it, especially the stanza dealing with the iron bells. I couldn’t recite it now, of course, except for a couple lines here and there. But naturally I’m not alone in loving that one, either. Here’s a YouTube version of it. I imagine this one must have been a bit more difficult to set to music than some.

And Joan Baez’ version of “All in Green Went My Love Riding” by ee cummings, which is probably my favorite ever as far as poems set to music.

Any poems that immediately spring to your mind that would be especially fabulous set to music? Or that particularly stuck in your head from your school days?

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6 Comments Rhythm: poetry that sticks with you

  1. Maureen E

    Heh heh heh <—- slightly evil cackle

    EWein mentioned Joan Baez's "All in Green" awhile back and I love it! That's one of my favorite poems anyway (cummings is in general one of my favorite poets) and the arrangement is so beautiful.

  2. Rachel

    Yes, I need to dig out my Baez cd, which I got just for that song, and put it on repeat for the drive home. And now I kinda want to burn a “Sea Fever” song and keep that in my car, too …

  3. elaine t

    Someone made a tune out of Tennyson’s Lady of Shallot, which I remember as quite good. MacKennitt sang it, also.

    Stuck in my head from school days: Paul Revere’s Ride. Noyes’ The Highwayman (got to say nowadays I’m not impressed with the guy, throwing away her sacrifice like that), and the Masefield. Oh, and Walter de la Mare, “The Listeners”.

    From later years, assorted picture books, especially the WHEN THE SKY IS LIKE LACE, and selections from SPACE CHILD’S MOTHER GOOSE, and Thurber’s 13 CLOCKS, which isn’t exactly poetry, but sticks anyway. (IOW, ones I liked enough to keep in memory.)

  4. Rachel

    Oh, yes, I do have McKennitt’s “Lady of Shallot,” too. It’s beautiful, though not catchy like “Sea Fever,” imo.

    I was NEVER impressed by The Highwayman throwing his life and her sacrifice away. Even when I was twelve or whatever, I thought that was awful.

    Space Child’s Mother Goose! I had forgotten all about that. “Possible probable my black hen / she lays eggs in the relative when / she doesn’t lay eggs in the positive now / because she’s forgotten to postulate how.” I’m not sure I got that quite right, but it does seem to have stuck pretty well.

    Robert, I don’t remember Robert Service’s poem at all. Thanks for linking it; I’ll look it up.

  5. SarahZ

    I’m partial to “Terrence, this is stupid stuff” by Housman.

    And malt does more than Milton can
    To justify God’s ways to man

    It has a great flow to it.

    My husband loves Tim Siebels poem Commercial Break: Road-Runner, Uneasy. He even used it as his going away email when he left his last job :)

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