Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Poetry Wednesday

By Judith

Every source seems to agree that Walter de la Mare was born in 1873. However, his date of death seems to be as shrouded in mist as his poetry. Alternately given as 1953, 1956, and 1958, the Random House dictionary says 1956, and I'm going to assume that the spirit of Bennett Cerf would certainly know these things.

A prolific writer, de la Mare produced poetry, short stories, fiction, non-fiction and edited anthologies. His poetry tended to be mystical and dark, his name sometimes mentioned along side Blake and Poe. De la Mare himself talked about "imagination." The "childlike" imagination was visionary, internalized and intuitive while the "boylike" or adult imagination was intellectual, external and logical. De la Mare didn't say one was better than the other, but a look at his poems might show that he was very much caught up in the nighttime world of dreams and visions.

Chronologically part of the collection of modern poets we've been looking at , de la Mare was stylistically more of the age of, say, Browning, to whom he was related on his mother's side. Probably his most famous poem is "The Listeners," published in 1912. Many of the poems and stories he wrote were for children, and perhaps he wasn't thought of as a more serious poet because of it. However, even his children's work had a dark side to it. Fantasy often does.

I especially like the end of this poem because, whether it means to or not, it perfectly describes what happens when a great phrase or line comes to you in a reverie or dream, but when you wake, it disappears like a wisp of smoke. Darn, that could have been the line that led to literary immortality!


In the woods as I did walk,
Dappled with the moon's beam,
I did with a Stranger talk,
And his name was Dream.

Spurred his heel, dark his cloak,
Shady-wide his bonnet's brim;
His horse beneath a silvery oak
Grazed as I talked with him.

Softly his breast-brooch burned and shone;
Hill and deep were in his eyes;
One of his hands held mine, and one
The fruit that makes men wise.

Wondrously strange was earth to see,
Flowers white as milk did gleam;
Spread to Heaven the Assyrian Tree,
Over my head with Dream.

Dews were still betwixt us twain;
Stars a trembling beauty shed;
Yet--not a whisper comes again
Of the words he said.

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