Zen and Sea Fever


I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song

and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face,

and a grey dawn breaking.


                                                                                                 London, UK. 1901


THIS BEAUTIFUL EXTRACT OF THE British Poet Laureate, John Masefield’s, Sea Fever is the first verse of his famous evocative poem. I have written it in its entirety in my book Papa, Who am I? available as a free download on the main site www.emwpeace.org.

It has to be said that just before I wrote this essay, I was  longing for the sea. I tried to find a mountain three weeks ago – I jumped in the car and headed west, with the sure expectation of climbing high and standing proud and aloft like an eagle surveying its panorama, deciding whether to swoop or not. It’s a pity if not divinely comical that I couldn’t find the solitary mountain promised on Google Maps. I even asked a local man who assured me it was at the next roundabout, turn left and follow the road. It was categorically not, and the mountain had obviously moved.

There were a few mole-hills around, sprouting like teenage pimples across the landscape, and I even became excited because Sat Nav failed, and I felt real adventure approaching. Where was I? You mean, I might be lost? Thank God, hurray! A throw-back to the old days when there was no technology, and I had to use all my survival instincts and a paper map to battle through to civilisation? WHAT adventure!   One memory is of my trekking deep in the Himalayas, quite concerned because I needed cash to pay my hotel. I remember it could have been a diplomatic incident, because offering a credit card to the perplexed Nepali hotel manager had produced nothing more than a vacuous nodding of the head, with a short one-liner, “Cash, madam.”

‘Amex says more than cash ever can’ truly was a complete advertising misrepresentation of the facts in Nepal,  and this was on my mind as I turned a corner into a remote village where, to my palpable relief and sitting completely dislocated and out of place, was a Bank of America ATM. God indeed provides, I thought. To this day, I thank American capitalism for its foresight in making money out of Western travellers who need cash thousands of metres up in mountainous regions where the Nepali Banks are clearly not required.

So my failure to find my mountain earlier this month was to do with size. It does matter, I inform you. I’d been looking too high for a summit. Training in the Himalayas leads one to expect great things which the West cannot match. Size matters. It’s time to find my passport.

I want to ask you if you find poetry like Masefield’s Sea Fever calming, uplifting, boring or depressing.

It does depend, of course, what we are doing when we read it. Obviously, if a bus has just run over your foot, fevers and the sea are the last thing you want to consider.

This type of exquisite poetry, of course, brings us back to the sensation of the ineffable. We bring up images of wind blowing across our faces, sweeping away the cares of the day; the feeling of blankness as we look into a grey sky which demands nothing of us. We then envisage a tall ship and a star – something which is so profoundly inbuilt in our psyches that it surely indicates that we all hanker for that allegorical journey back into the unknown horizon.

If you say a tall ship and a solitary star on the open ocean to anybody anywhere in the world, they will visibly pause and acknowledge tacitly what you mean, often with a smile, and shoulders might drop as tension releases. It’s the simplicity in form of either the written word or painted image that can lead you back to who you really are – the ineffable, aka as God. The beauty of Zen art aims to do just that; if the mind cannot fathom what the image is, that is EXACTLY where the art succeeds. Drop the mind, and see what’s left.

The stunning beauty of some art in Zen also reveals the level of enlightenment the Master has achieved, if he chooses to teach with his brush. He can express entire human consciousness with one stroke and answer perennial questions with another. And, I am sure you will recognise exactly what a Zen Master means in his art without necessarily being able to articulate it verbally. In fact, it might take you a lifetime to find the words.

In all classical Indian music too, there is a central holding note around which the remaining piece is played. This sounds and feels like an AUM, and it resonates somewhere in the solar plexus. This is because it represents the ineffable that you are; it is the lynchpin of existence, the holding-place of your life, and whatever dance you feel you must perform in life, this deep resonance reminds you of your true divine nature and draws you inwards like a centripetal force. This is until it is experienced that the AUM is everywhere and inner and outer have no longer meaning.

How is this possible? Because you are simply consciousness recognising Itself. Knowing knowing Itself.

Why do  you love simplicity?  – don’t tell me you have no time for beauty; if you have time for suffering, you have time to be still.  Notice it is actually the space empty of form that you love, and sometimes artists of all genres put in a small, incidental shape to emphasise the divine emptiness that you REALLY are, be the shape a tall ship and a star, or a solitary pole in a Zen masterpiece.

Here is the link again to my free E-Book: Papa, Who Am I? www.emwpeace.org.

With love,




Selima Gurtler is a spiritual writer, philosopher, and Jnana yogi.

Her modern teachings to Self-Realization and Liberation are uniquely flavoured through the perceptive eyes of her Indian and European heritage.

Free copies of her books are available for download here:  https://www.emwpeace.org/publications/

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and His Grace Archbishop Desmond Tutu are patrons of her work.


Images under CCO from https://pixabay.com/en/users/12019-12019/ and https://pixabay.com/en/users/stux-12364/



1 Comment

  1. Lorna Park

    I love the poem and it’s not one that I’m familiar with so thank you. Adventure, the unknown and a star, the emblem of the mind or the Self that guides us.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *