The essay examines the history of poetry written by sailors from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. William Falconer's The Shipwreck (1762, 1764 and 1769) inspired many seamen to turn poet and to write about their experiences at sea. Falconer's influence is seen in how sailor poets write about maritime labor and practices such as impressment and how they represent the beauties and threats of the ocean environment. They also share stylistic features, notably an emphasis on “terms of art” specific to shipboard life. Sailor poets provide key insights into important sociocultural developments related to the expansion of the British empire, including significant insights into the horrors of the slave trade and the cause of abolition. Falconer's legacy is one that is deeper than previously recognized.

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