A Brief Poem Review: “Dauber” by John Masefield

I first heard “Dauber” about five years ago, sitting on the narrow benches across from the rocking tables that can only be found in the main saloon of a schooner. Shenandoah is her name. Captain would read us this poem most nights. I have to admit, most of us, including myself, zoned out or napped a little during his tales. In fact, in those junctures there were definitely a million things I’d rather do. Yet I find myself in moments of introspective reflection craving those words that were so melodically and boringly read to me. A table one cannot lean their head on, a head that smells like what one does in the head- right next to us, and the distant sounds of late night ferries. It took me a while but I tracked down a copy of what I think is the majority of the poem which Captain read to us at night. As I read over it again recently I found myself actually encapsulated and blindingly fascinated. Dauber’s story is one to me in which I actually really can understand. While Masefield’s old english and ever-present formal rhymes might have put me to sleep before, being able to engage with his words with my own eyes was a completely new experience. Now, when I think of the verbal utterance of this story, I can’t help but think it is perhaps the best lullaby that has ever been read to me. 

Dauber, a young man born in a home of generational farmers has escaped to sea as a painter. We hear his reflection of the rejection against his fathers wishes in his expected parallel procedure. We read about the tricks the sailors pull on Dauber, cold nights battling the wind and the snow on the bottom of the tip of South America. Ultimately, Dauber dies, although after he has at least come to terms with his new-found belonging as a sailor. Perhaps a rejection of the laborious life his dad wanted for him, or maybe a connection bringing the two back together. A born farmer, turned painter, turned sailor who eventually rests at sea ultimately. A poem with words and rhymes that speak out to me. A poem that bores me. A poem that excites me. Masefield and Dauber’s adventure that I can join in the main saloon at night. The late night ferries blowing their horns in the distance, waves lapping onto the joints and planks that inundate these joyful words. All is right when we are on a sailboat floating in the middle of the world. 

Published by ellakotsen

student at Bryn Mawr College

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