Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Walter de la Mare published his first book of poems, SONGS OF CHILDHOOD, in 1902, his last, O LOVELY ENGLAND, in 1953, three years before his death; and his career, spanning more than half a century, was productive to the end. Since five books of new lyrics and a supplementary volume of earlier verse followed the 1941 edition of his COLLECTED POEMS, this collection cannot in any sense be regarded as complete. Rather, it marks an interval stage of revision and regrouping of work which de la Mare wished to preserve and present in its final form. A number of the poems have been slightly altered from their original versions; others have been regrouped by subject matter, and some have been omitted from earlier single volumes. Most of these have been reprinted in a second series, COLLECTED RHYMES AND VERSES (1944). In the light of these changes it seems certain that at the time the poet considered this volume the definitive edition of his most serious work.

“Delamarian” has come to stand for that blending of supernal beauty and the supernatural, nature and mankind tinged delicately with “theotherworlde,” as Henry C. Duffin, friend and critic of the poet, has styled it. POEMS: 1906 opens on this note in “Shadow”:

Even the beauty of the rose doth cast,When its bright, fervid noon is past,A still and lengthening shadow in thedust,Till darkness comeAnd take its strange dream home.

The poem concludes with recognition of the “dark and livelong hint of death” which is the shadow of life haunting us into eternity. In this first group is another poem, “England,” which presents the other side of his brightest coin:

No lovelier hills than thine have laidMy tired thoughts to rest:No peace of lovelier valleys madeLike peace within my breast.

The poem continues with a celebration of the woods, “a refuge green and cool,” and seas that “like trumpets peal,” and concludes:

Thine be the grave whereto I come,And thine my darkness be.

Neither the sonnets nor the attempts to re-create characters from Shakespeare are equal to de la Mare’s lyric or descriptive poems, though the selections which are recalled from childhood display his unique ability to “become as a little child,” often with startling results, as in “Fear” or “Echo,” in which phantasms arise and will not be put down. Then, too, the lovely idyl which is childhood takes shape in “The Mermaids” and “Myself,” but always with a touch of strangeness, a shadow.

THE LISTENERS (1912) contains the title poem, too well-known to be repeated but beloved by all, and many others which exhibit the same masterly blending of clear, singing music and the twilight atmosphere of a world of fantasy and dreams, qualities that made his...

(The entire section is 1341 words.)