I have shared this before, but this is such a lovely poem, the first in John Masefield’s sonnet cycle that it can be read a dozen times! Masefield is a favourite poet for the compilers of anthologies; his vivid narratives in his verse are ideal for children… children of all ages I should add. There are certain poems which every person of a certain age knows, and among them must be several by Masefield.
He was born in 1878 and orphaned while still a child; his mother died in childbirth, his father when little John was only six. Her served on several ships and his love and interest in the sea, and the interesting voyages he took are brought to life in his work. While still a young man, he married Constance, who was twelve years older than him. When the First World war came, although technically old enough to be exempt he served in France as an orderly. He became Poet Laureate, and what I didn’t realise was that much as I loved his work, he was still alive when I was a child. he died in 1967 at the good age of eighty-eight.
I like the pairs of images, glittering earth/heaven, drunkards/kings, war/paradise, and the way we are led from streets at night to royal courts to battlefields where men are harvested ‘like wheat’… White clover opening Paradise, God living in a cottage by a brook… Fourteen lines but how far we travel! This is a love poem, but the object of his love is not a woman, although ‘she’ assumes a feminine identity her, ‘she’ was for Masefield, Beauty personified, he actually felt that Beauty was not an abstract concept but an actual living force, a force of nature.
Long long ago, when all the glittering earth
Was heaven itself, when drunkards in the street
Were like mazed kings shaking at giving birth
To acts of war that sickle men like wheat,
When the white clover opened Paradise
And God lived in a cottage up the brook,
Beauty, you lifted up my sleeping eyes
And filled my heart with longing with a look;
And all the day I searched but could not find
The beautiful dark-eyed who touched me there,
Delight in her made trouble in my mind,
She was within all Nature, everywhere,
The breath I breathed, the brook, the flower, the grass,
Were her, her word, her beauty, all she was.