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by John Masefield [1912]

Web version edited by Arthur Kay [1998],
scripting by Steve S. [1998]


by Arthur Kay

The life at sea has given us some remarkable writers. Herman Melville, for one, comes to mind. As a young man, Melville, like John Masefield, succumbed to his desire "to sail forbidden seas and land on barbarous coasts." A whaling ship was for him, he said "My Yale and my Harvard." Then there is Joseph Conrad, many of whose best stories came directly from his maritime experience, both before the mast and on the bridge as Master. From both of these authors we can always expect the truest, most tactile rendering of that hard service.

So it was with Masefield. "Dauber" comes out of his experiences as a common sailor. Nowhere else in literature does the reader find a keener sense of the rough scrape of rope on skin, the sounds of wind and flapping sails. In June, 1894, aboard the Gilcruix, a four-masted barque, he rounded infamous Cape Horn. The ship was buffeted and battered for thirty-two days by seas forty feet high. "It was real, naked life.... At sea you get the manhood knocked bare..." He might have called the Gilcruix, to paraphrase Melville,his Oxford and his Cambridge.

A number of themes can be found in this poem . There is the old motif of the scorned and rejected misfit redeemed, a common one in literature and in folklore. There is the absolute commitment of the artist giving himself to his talent, incapable of following a more acceptable course. And there is the isolation of a sensitive man living and working among the "Philistines." But perhaps most rewarding of all in this poem is the sense of the terror and beauty of the sea.

--Arthur Kay [1998]

Onward to the first part of Dauber.


Explanations of some of the sea terms used in this poem:

- Wire ropes which support the masts against lateral and after strains.

Barney's bull
- A figure in marine proverb. A jewel in marine repartee.

- Two bells (one forward, one aft) which are struck every half-hour in a certain manner to mark the passage of the watches.

- Strong wooden structures (built round each mast) upon which running rigging is secured.

- A sheaved pulley.

- A supernumerary or idler, generally attached to the mate's watch, and holding considerable authority over the crew.

Bouilli tin
- Any tin that contains, or has contained, preserved meat.

- The forward extremity of a ship.

- Pulleys through which the braces travel.

- Ropes by which the yards are inclined forward or aft.

Bumboat pan
- Soft bread sold by the bumboat man, a kind of sea costermonger who trades with ships in port.

- Those cloths of a square sail which are nearest to the mast when the sail is set. The central portion of a furled square sail. The human abdomen (figuratively).

- Ropes which help to confine square sails to the yards in the operation of furling.

- Wooden stands on which the boats rest.

- Iron or wooden contrivances to which ropes may be secured.

- Ropes by which the lower corners of square sails are lifted.

- The lower corners of square sails.

- A title of honour given to ships of more than usual speed and beauty.

- The raised rim of a hatchway; a barrier at a doorway to keep water from entering.

- The large square sails set upon the lower yards of sailing ships. The mizen course is called the "crojick."

- Fitted with iron rings or cringles, many of which are let into sails or sail-roping for various purposes.

Crojick (or crossJack)
- A square sail set upon the lower yard of the mizen mast.

- Thin blue or khaki-coloured overalls made from cocoanut fibre.

- Rings of wood or iron by means of which running rigging is led in any direction.

- Strong wooden shelves fitted with iron pins, to which ropes may be secured.

- I. e., fingers.

- Ropes on which men stand when working aloft.

- The cabin or cabins in which the men are berthed. It is usually an iron deck-house divided through the middle into two compartments for the two watches, and fitted with wooden bunks. Sometimes it is even fitted with lockers and an iron water-tank.

- Strands, yarns, or arrangements of yarns of rope.

- Iron doors in the ship's side which open outwards to free the decks of water.

- To wrap round with rope.

- Iron bars to which the topmast rigging is secured. As they project outward and upward from the masts they are difficult to clamber over.

- The ship's kitchen.

Gantline (girtline)
- A rope used for the sending of sails up and down from aloft. in furling.

- Ropes by which the sails are secured

- A cabin or apartment in which the apprentices are berthed. Its situation is usually the ship's waist; but it is sometimes further aft, and occasionally it is under the poop or even right forward under the topgallant fo'c'sle.

- Ropes by which sails are hoisted.

- An office or room from which the salt meat is issued, and in which it is sometimes stored.

- The bows or forward end of a ship.

- The forward part of a ship. That upper edge of a square sail which is attached to the yard.

- The special flag of the firm to which a ship belongs.

- The members of the round-house mess, generally consisting of the carpenter, cook, sailmaker, boatswain, painter, etc., are known as the idlers.

Jack (or jackstay)
- An iron bar (fitted along all yards in sailing ships) to which the head of a square sail is secured when bent.

- Light upper sails.

- The outer edges of square saiIs. In furling some square sails the leech is dragged inwards till it lies level with the head upon the surface of the yard This is (lone by the first man who gets upon the yard beginning at the weather side.

- -A contrivance by which a ship's speed is measured.

Lower topsail
- The second sail from the deck oil square rigged masts. It is a very strong, important sail.

- - Tarry line or coarse string made of rope-yarns twisted together.

- -The First or Chief Mate is generally called the Mate.

Mizen -topmast-head
- -The Summit of the second of the three or four spars which make the complete mizen-mast,

- Anchors.

- Iron or wooden bars to which running rigging is secured.

- -A kind of near plait with which ropes are sometimes ended off or decorated.

- The forward end of the after Superstructure.

- -The rope steps placed across the shrouds to enable the seamen to go aloft.

- Apprentices.

- Ropes by which the area of some sails may be reduced in the operation of reefing. Reef-points are securely fixed to the sails fitted with them, and when not Ili use their ends patter continually upon the canvas with a gentle drumming noise.

- A part of the machinery used with a logship.

- A cabin (of all shapes except round) in which the idlers are berthed.

- -Light upper square sails; the fourth, fifth, or sixth sails from the deck according to the mast's rig.

- large room or compartment ill which the ship's sails are stored.

- The sailmaker is meant.

- -A cask containing fresh water.

- - Rope handles for a sea-chest.

- - blocks, by means of which sails are sheeted home. In any violent wind they beat upon the mast with great rapidity and force.

- Ropes or chains which extend the lower corners of square sails in the operation of sheeting home.

Shifting suits (of sails)
- The operation of removing a ship's sails, and replacing them with others.

- Wire ropes of great strength, which support lateral strains oil masts.

- -Iron contrivances by which shrouds are hove taut.

- -A sailing ship carries two of these between sunset and sunrise: one green, to starboard; one red, to port.

- -Observations to help in the finding of a ship's position.

- -A wooden contrivance on which ship's boats rest.

- - The uppermost square sails; the fifth, sixth, or seventh sails from the deck according to the mast's rig.

- -The noise made by sails flogging in the wind.

- --Grease, melted fat.

- - A kind of oilskin hat. A gale from the south-west.

- To chew tobacco.

Square sennit
- A cunning plait which makes a four-square bar.

- -Fore and aft sails set upon the stays between the masts.

- -To furl.

Strop (the, putting on)
- A strop is a grument or rope ring. The two players kneel down facing each other, the strop is placed over their heads, and the men then try to pull each other over by the strength of their neck-muscles.

- Iron doors in the ship's side which open outwards to free the decks from water.

Tackle (pronounced " taykel ")
- Blocks, ropes, pulleys, etc.

Take a caulk
- To sleep upon the deck.

- The second and third sails from the duck on the masts of a modern square-rigged ship are known as the lower and tipper topsails.

- The summits of the masts.

Upper topsail
- The third square sail from the deck on the masts of square-rigged ships.

- The steel or wooden spars (placed across masts) from which square sails are set.

Onward to the first part of Dauber.

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