Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Dot Wordsworth

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Dot Wordsworth

Article excerpt

I'm very glad I followed a friend's recommendation to read The Bird of Dawning by John Masefield, an author neglected to the point of disparagement.

The vehicle of the book is a tale of seafaring in the 1860s, and one of Masefield's great strengths is vividness. He deals with material objects in motion. But description of such objects is impossible for any writer. If the reader has never seen an oak tree, no amount of description will conjure it up.

A simple example in The Bird of Dawning (the title is the name of a ship) comes when the hero remembers to take with him from a sinking ship a vice 'nipped to a ledge; he released the nip and took that'. Without the technical term nip , the description is less exact and economical.

A landlubber like me gets into trouble when things happen to a ship's masts and rigging. Don't worry, I do not intend to catalogue the names of sails and ropes and spars. Masefield spends two pages describing the setting of a lower studding-sail by a depleted crew. (He sensibly enough spells studding-sail 'stunsail', which is how it is said. …

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