glorifier of war, wrote those lines. If men died for love of England they also
For some idea but dimly understood
Of an English city never built by hands
Which love of England prompted and made good.
The mood in which Masefield watched the approach of war, as it is here recorded, is not the eager consecration to which young men like Rupert Brooke gave expression. Masefield's poem has lost nothing of its poignancy in the aftermath of disillusion, because it was written from an embracing vision. It does not ennoble war; it merely perceives it as the agency through which men reach down into
Men will give of themselves again as they have before, to the last spurt of energy, to the last drop of blood.
In the idealism of which human nature is capable, whether in blindly serving unworthy ends or not, one finds John Masefield's sympathies always passionately enlisted. That is what gives meaning to his world.
The woman marching by the beaten man,
Make with their truth atonement for the brag,
And earn a pity for the too proud plan.
For in disaster, in the ruined will,
In the soiled shreds of what the brain conceived,
Something above the wreck is steady still,
Bright above all that cannot be retrieved.
Grandeur of soul, a touching of the star
That good days covered but by which we are.
That is the conviction, this burning belief in the tortured nobility to which human nature can reach, which is at the core of tragedy in his plays, just as it runs through the poems. Whether it be Pompey the Great, going to his death on the shores of Pelusium in Egypt, or the Samurai of The Faithful laying down their lives out of loyalty, the informing spirit is the same.
It is natural that a poet who is deeply sensitive to the potential greatness in human nature should seek ardently for some assurance that man is not playing his part in a meaningless rigmarole. His sequence of sonnets picturing the flow and ebb of vanishing civilizations ends with these lines: