Summary and Analysis
“All but Blind,” by the English poet Walter de la Mare (1873-1956), is a relatively simple poem and reflects the fact that de la Mare often wrote verse for children. The work is uncomplicated in phrasing, structure, and rhyme scheme, although the meter of the work is often both precise and subtle.
In line 1, for instance, the heaviest stress falls on “blind,” the key word of the entire poem. The very brevity of that line gives the word even heavier emphasis. Note how the speaker first describes blindness before revealing what, precisely, is blind. We do not learn for certain until the very last word of the first stanza that the blind creature is a “Mole” (4). The speaker thus creates a kind of curiosity and suspense as we have to wait to discover exactly which creature he has in mind. The stanza would be much less effective if that information were given first (as in “The four-clawed Mole, / In his chambered hole, / All but blind / Hunts his daily dole”).
As presently structured, the stanza emphasizes blindness at the start and the “Mole” at the very end. Notice, too, how the speaker manages to give special metrical emphasis to the verb “Gropes” (3). The verb is strongly accented, and it is placed first in the line to give it extra attention. The word “grope” derives from an Old English word meaning “to grasp,” and “Gropes” definitely suggests effort and work. The mole may seem insignificant (and in fact is usually invisible to human beings), but the tiny creature goes about its business with admirable determination. And, because the mole mainly is invisible to humans as it works quietly beneath the ground, it is we, in a sense, who are blind to it.
Stanza two is structured similarly to stanza one, especially in its first two lines. However, for the sake of variation and to avoid predictability, the speaker now presents the supposedly blind creature in the stanza’s third line, rather than in its fourth. As it happens, the “Bat” mentioned here (7) in some ways resembles the “Mole” mentioned earlier (4): both are very small, very inconspicuous creatures that resemble mice. Yet distinctions are also implied: one creature, of course, is mostly invisible below ground, while the other is mostly invisible in the sky at night. The mole “Gropes” slowly for its food (3), while the Bat moves swiftly through the air: it “Twirls softly by” (8), in a phrase in which the verb receives strong metrical emphasis. The poem has thus moved from beneath the ground to the air above, just as it moves from groping slowness to ease and grace of flight.
Stanza three repeats the expected opening line but also, like stanza two, works subtle variations on earlier patterns. Thus, whereas the environments of the mole and bat seemed not unpleasant, and while each of those creatures seemed to operate with an instinctive efficiency, stanza three reports (with heavy alliteration) that
In the burning day
The Barn-Owl blunders
On her way. (10-12)
(The entire section is 774 words.)