And when the whole crew gathers round to impress upon Dauber the fact of his incompetence,
“You hear?” the
Bosun cried, “You cannot do it!”
“A gospel truth,” the Cook said, “true as hell!”
Here, obviously, the very letter of realism is intended.
Here, too, it may be added, we have as well-meaning an array of oaths as was ever set out in literature. When Mr. Kipling repeats a soldier’s oath, he seems to do so with a chuckle of appreciation. When Mr. Masefield puts down the oaths of sailors, he does so rather as a melancholy duty. He swears, not like a trooper, but like a virtuous man. He does not, as so many realists do, love the innumerable coarsenesses of life which he chronicles; that is what makes his oaths often seem as innocent as the conversation of elderly sinners echoed on the lips of children. He has a splendid innocence of purpose, indeed. He wishes to give us the prosaic truth of actual things as a kind of correspondence to the poetic truth of spiritual things of which they are the setting and the frame. Or it may be that he repeats these oaths and all the rest of it simply as a part of the technicalities of life at sea.
He certainly shows a passion for technicalities hardly less than Mr. Kipling’s own. He tells us, for instance, how, in the height of the fury of frost and surge and gale round Cape Horn,
last, at last
They frapped the cringled crojick’s icy pelt;
In frozen bulge and bunt they made it fast.
And, again, when the storm was over and Dauber had won the respect of his mates by his manhood, we have an almost unintelligible verse describing how the Bosun, in a mood of friendship, set out to teach him some of the cunning of the sea:—
Then, while the Dauber counted, Bosun took
Some marline from his pocket. “Here,” he said,
“You want to know square sennit? So fash. Look!
Eight foxes take, and stop the ends with thread.
I’ve known an engineer would give his head
To know square sennit.” As the Bose began,
The Dauber felt promoted to a man.
Mr. Masefield has generously provided six pages of glossary at the end of his poem, where we are told the meaning of “futtock-shrouds,” “poop-break,” “scuttlebutt,” “mud-hooks,” and other items in the jargon of the sea.
So much for Mr. Masefield’s literary method. Let me be equally frank about his genius, and confess at once that, in any serious estimate of this, all I have said will scarcely be more relevant than the charge against Burke that he had a clumsy delivery. Mr. Masefield has given us in Dauber a poem of genius, one of the great storm-pieces of modern literature, a poem that for imaginative infectiousness challenges comparison with the prose of Mr. Conrad’s Typhoon. To criticize its style takes us no nearer its ultimate secret than piling up examples