Walter de la Mare Analysis

Other literary forms

ph_0111200591-Delamare.jpg Walter de la Mare Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Walter de la Mare (deh-luh-MEHR) was a prolific author of fiction and nonfiction as well as poetry. His novels include modern adult fiction, such as Memoirs of a Midget (1921), and fiction for children, such as The Three Mulla-Mulgars (1910). His short stories fit into a variety of traditional genres; many are tales of the supernatural. The interests that manifest themselves in the poetry and fiction are more explicitly revealed in de la Mare’s essays and his work as an editor. Not much given to analysis, as a critic he was primarily an appreciator and interpreter, much as he was as a poet. Of the anthologies he edited, Behold, This Dreamer! (1939) is perhaps the most revealing of the influences that de la Mare particularly valued in his work as a poet.

Achievements

Walter de la Mare was one of the most popular poets of his time. Since his death his reputation has faded. His verse sometimes sounds too romantic for the sensibilities of a modern audience. However, his children’s verse remains in print, and the best of his adult poetry remains standard for inclusion in anthologies of twentieth century English poets. The present moderate eclipse of the popularity of his poetry is probably temporary, because his best verse has those iconoclastic qualities that make such poets as William Blake stand out from ordinary poets.

De la Mare’s sensibility is deeply rooted in the Romanticism of the nineteenth century, and like the works of Rudyard Kipling and George Bernard Shaw, his writings often seem reminiscent of the Victorian era. Nevertheless, his subjects were from the twentieth century, and the resultant mixture of contemporary realism and Romantic style make him special among major poets. Of the various poetic modes represented in his works, the lyric was the one with which de la Mare had his greatest artistic success; he ranks among the best lyric poets in the English language, and he may be the best English lyric poet of his era. In his mastery of poetic form and metaphor, de la Mare compares favorably with the best the English language has to offer.

His blend of romance and realism, of the supernatural with the commonplace, inspired poets of his day. The term delamarian was coined sometime during de la Mare’s middle years, and it is still used to identify works that employ techniques that are best represented by his work. The coinage of such a term is evidence of the esteem in which de la Mare was held by many of his contemporaries, and of the unique blend of form and ideas that makes him one of the twentieth century’s best poets.

Other Literary Forms

In addition to his numerous volumes of short fiction, Walter de la Mare published poetry, novels, anthologies of various kinds, collections of essays, one play, and scores of essays, reviews, and articles published separately. In the United States, de la Mare is better known as a children’s writer than he is for the other genres in which he worked.

Achievements

De la Mare’s remarkable literary career spans more than five decades. The English novelist, poet, dramatist, short-story writer, critic, essayist, and anthropologist is best known today as a writer infused with a Romantic imagination. He has often been compared to William Blake and Thomas Hardy because of similarities in thematic development of mortality and visionary illumination. Often labeled as an escapist because of his retreat from reality, de la Mare’s work touches on dreams, fantasy worlds, emotional states, and transcendent pursuits. Best known in the United States for his children’s literature, he has produced numerous volumes of prose and verse in the genre. All his work is suffused by a childlike quality of imagination. De la Mare’s writings have still not received the attention they deserve. He lived a quiet, uneventful life, always reluctant to impart information about himself. Throughout his life de la Mare wrote poetry. It is this work that represents his truest and most lasting literary achievement. In 1948, de la Mare received the Companion of Honour and in 1953, the Order of Merit. During the next three years he also received honorary degrees from five colleges, including Oxford and Cambridge.

Other literary forms

Walter de la Mare (deh-luh-MAYR) was a prolific author of poetry, short stories, and nonfiction. Like his novels, de la Mare’s poetry and short fiction range from works written explicitly for children (for which he is best remembered) to works intended for adults. Poetry collections such as Songs of Childhood (1902) and A Child’s Day: A Book of Rhymes (1912) reveal his understanding of the pleasures and frustrations of childhood, an understanding that made The Three Mulla-Mulgars a favorite with children. De la Mare’s poetry for adults embodies his belief that human beings live in two coexistent worlds: the world of everyday experience and the world of the spirit, which is akin to dreaming.

Dreams and the nature of the imagination are frequent themes in both de la Mare’s fiction and his poetry. These and other interests are more explicitly revealed in his essays and in his work as an editor. Not much given to analysis, de la Mare was primarily an appreciative critic. Of the anthologies he edited, Behold, This Dreamer! (1939) is perhaps the most revealing of the influences that shaped his work.

Achievements

Walter de la Mare published only five novels, one of which, At First Sight, is more a long short story than a true novel. His fiction is metaphorical and resembles his poetry in its concerns. Much of what he wanted to communicate in his writing is best suited to short works, and therefore his novels are haphazardly successful. In spite of the difficulties of his novels, his contemporary critics in general had a high regard for him as a novelist. Edward Wagenknecht, an important historian of the novel, ranked Memoirs of a Midget as one of the best twentieth century English novels. Indeed, in his essay on de la Mare in Cyclopedia of World Authors (1958), Wagenknecht emphasizes Memoirs of a Midget at the expense of de la Mare’s other writings.

De la Mare’s novels, however, were not as widely read in their time as his poetry and short fiction, and today they are seldom read at all. The lack of modern attention to de la Mare’s novels is caused less by any absence of merit than by the predictable drop in reputation that many authors undergo in the literary generation after their deaths. Although his novels are unlikely to regain their popularity with a general readership, serious students of twentieth century English literature will almost certainly return to de la Mare’s novels as his generation’s writings are rehabilitated among scholars.

Bibliography

Benntinck, Anne. Romantic Imagery in the Works of Walter de la Mare. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2001. Devotes one chapter apiece to each of seven major Romantic themes or leitmotifs in de la Mare’s poetry. Includes bibliography, index of works, general index.

Duffin, Henry Charles. Walter de la Mare: A Study of His Poetry. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1949. The author focuses on de la Mare’s verse. He considers him a sublime visionary poet of exceptional lucidity whose excessive creative energies are diminished in the prose stories, which he also considers delightful. His main thesis is that de la Mare’s poetry...

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