born in Herefordshire. In 1884 his mother died and in 1891, after severe mental breakdown, he was brought up by relatives who did not prove sympathetic. School in Warwick was followed at the age of 13 by training for the merchant navy. He sailed for Chile in 1894, and again across the Atlantic, but at the age of 17 deserted ship and became a vagrant in America. Back in England he began his prolific writing career, which was eventually to compass some 50 volumes of verse, over 20 novels, eight plays, and much miscellaneous work. His first published book was Salt‐Water Ballads (1902, which included ‘I must to the seas again’—altered to the more familiar ‘I must go down to the seas again’ for the convenience of the musical setting). Masefield joined the Manchester Guardian in 1907.
Ballads and Poems (1910), which contained ‘Cargoes’, was followed by the first of many narrative poems, The Everlasting Mercy (1911), an account of the conversion of the rough Saul Kane; The Widow in the Bye Street (1912); and Reynard the Fox (1919), a rattling verse tale set in the rural world of Masefield's childhood. His Collected Poems (1923) sold in great numbers, as did the novels Sard Harker (1924), Odtaa (1926), The Bird of Dawning (1933), and his story for children, The Midnight Folk (1927). In 1930 Masefield became poet laureate. He produced more volumes of poetry, the sea‐novels Dead Ned (1938) and Live and Kicking Ned (1939), and the autobiographical So Long to Learn (1952). A final luminous fragment of autobiography, describing his country childhood, appeared in 1966 as Grace before Ploughing.