From “Sea Fever”

From “Sea Fever,” by John Masefield

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.


For the first time in years, I actually asked for more books this Christmas, and have spent the past several days tearing through three of those I wished for.

First up (at long last!) were Steve Pressfield’s The War of Art and Turning Pro. I’ve been thinking about Steve’s work a lot lately, especially after listening to his recent guest appearance on Mark McGuinness’s podcast about the hero’s journey and the artist’s journey. The hero’s journey, of course, is the adventure or trial by which we come to know our true selves and return to society bearing a gift; the artist’s journey, in Steve’s telling, is the subsequent journey of giving the gift we’ve received back to the society that receives us.

Immediately afterward came the late Admiral Sandy Woodward’s One Hundred Days: The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander. That’s quite a yarn, and distinguished at least as much for its introspection and honest reckoning with the trials of war as for its descriptions of battle and command. Like the best memoirs, it chronicles Adm. Woodward’s hero’s journey and remains for the rest of us as a gift of his artist’s journey.

Reading these books back to back, several things seem clear:

  • No adventure, no art.
  • No reflection, discipline, and learning, no worthwhile art. (This is the essence of “turning pro,” as a writer, entrepreneur, naval officer, or whatever.)
  • Not everyone gets to live as Odysseus, with a hero’s journey spanning decades, or even as Adm. Woodward, who prepared for decades to pass the test of a lifetime in a “mere” 100 days. For the rest of us, the adventure/art (hero/artist) cycle has to be repeated on a longer cycle: have an adventure, make meaning of it — and then “down to the seas again” to see what we might meet this time, what we might make of it, and what it might make of us.

Each voyage of any value will demand our utmost, yet we grow through the experience (plus reflection). And thus sooner or later must put to sea again and again to earn a quiet sleep when the long trick’s truly over.