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||Walter de la Mare (1873-1953) - pen name Walter Ramal|
British novelist and poet, loosely connected with the literary tradition of Wordsworth and Coleridge. De la Mare's reputation as a poet was established by the volume The Listeners and Other Poems (1912). Vita Sackville-West once called him a "poet of dusk". De la Mare wrote for both children and adults. His best-known novel is Memoirs of a Midget (1921), which described sympathetically the world of the minute Miss M. or Miss Thomasina, who is regarded as a freak. The book won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1922.
Look thy last on all things lovely,
Walter de la Mare was born at Charlton, Kent, in the south of England, of well-to-do parents. His father, James Edward Delamare (as the name was originally spelled), was an official of the Bank of England. His mother, Lucy Sophia (Browning), was related to the poet Robert Browning. He was educated in London at St. Paul's Cathedral Choir School, which he left aged 16. From 1890 to 1908 he worked in London in the accounting department of the Anglo-American Oil Company. His first published story, 'Kismet' (1895), appeared in the Sketch under the pseudonym Walter Ramal. De la Mare continued writing and re-writing stories to the end of his life.
In 1908 de la Mare was awarded a yearly government pension of £100, and he devoted himself entirely to writing. He retired to Taplow in Buckinghamshire, where he lived quietly with his wife, Constance Elfrida Ingpen (died 1943), and four children. De la Mare's eldest son Richard became Chairman of Faber & Faber, and published several of his father's books. The slaughter of WWI left a weariness in his work for a long period. "Heavenly Archer, bend thy bow; / Now the flame of life burns low, / Youth is gone; I, too, would go" he wrote in a poem (in 'Dust to Dust', Motley, 1918). From 1940 until his death, he lived in Montpelier Row, Twickenham; the same street where Tennyson had lived a hundred years earlier. De la Mare received the CH in 1948, and the OM in 1953. He died in Twickenham, near London, on June 22, 1958. De la Mare is buried in St Paul's Cathedral.
His first stories and poems de la Mare wrote for periodicals,
for The Sketch amongst others, and published in 1902 a
collection of poetry, Songs of
Childhood, under the name Walter Ramal. It attracted little
notice. Subsequently de la Mare published many volumes of poetry for
both adults and children.
Henry Brocken (1904), in which a young hero sets out an allegorical journey, appeared under De la Mare's own name. The eponymous protagonist of this supernatural novel encounters fictional characters and writers from the past, at the beginning Wordsworth's Lucy Grey, and then Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, with whom he spends a night, but he is eventually cast back from the booklands to mortality. A similar theme about the relationship between real and fictional was taken up in The Return (1910), an eerie story of spirit possession. Arthur Lawford suspects that an eighteenth-century pirate, Nicholas Sabathier, is seizing control of his personality. "'Here lie ye bones of one, Nicholas Sabathier,' he began murmuring again – 'merely bones, mind you; brains and heart are quite another story. And it's pretty certain the fellow had some kind of brains. Besides, poor devil, he killed himself. That seems to hint at brains..."
De la Mare's first successful book was The Listeners;
the title poem is one of his most anthologized pieces. In the work
supernatural presence haunts the solitary Traveller, the typical
speaker of his poems: "Is there anybody there? said the Traveller, /
Knocking on the moonlit door; / And his horse in the silence champed
the grasses / Of the forest's ferny floor.... / But no one descended to
the Traveller; / No head from the leaf-fringed sill / Leaned over and
looked into his grey eyes, / Where he stood perplexed and still."
often described the English sea and coast, the secret and hidden world
of nature. His
favorite themes, childhood, death, dreams, commonplace
objects and events, de la Mare examined with a touch of mystery and
often with an undercurrent of melancholy. His novels have been
reprinted many times in horror collections because of their sense of
wonder, and also hidden malevolence. However, de la Mare did not have
the morbid atmosphere of Poe, but his dreamlike visions had many points in common with those of William Blake. "I imagine that he would agree with Blake," said
the critic Alice Lothian, "who delieved that ghosts "did not appear
much to imaginative men, but only to common minds who did not see the
finer spirits."" ('Walter de la Mare' by Alice Lothian, in The North American Review, Vol. 216, No. 804, Nov., 1922)
During de la Mare's lifetime, no full-length feature films were produced from his fiction. The short story 'What Dreams May Come' (1936) was adapted for the TV series Tales of Tomorrow in 1953. 'Seaton's Aunt', a tale of vampirism written about 1909, was filmed in 1983 in the Granada Television series Shades of Darkness. Though not based on his work but on a play by R.A. Dick (Josephine Leslie, 1898-1979), The Ghost and Mrs Muir (1947) contains many of the fantasy elements typical for a de la Mare story, such as the bondage between the material world and the spirit world.
Three jolly gentlemen,
Among de la Mare's books of children verse and stories are
Peacock Pie: A Book of Rhymes (1913) and Broomsticks and Other Tales (1925).
One of de la Mare's most popular book for children was The Three Mulla Mulgars (1910),
which told a story of three royal monkeys on a long journey. Later this
animal fantasy was retitled The
Three Royal Monkeys.
Come Hither (1923), which contains over 800 pages and covers approximately 600 years of literature in English, is a widely admired anthology for children. W.H. Auden said of it, "I remember very well the appearance, when I was a schoolboy, of Come Hither, a collection which, more than any book I have read before or since, taught me what poetry is" (The New Republic, Dec. 27, 1939). Instead of an introduction, this anthology begins with a piece of autobiographical fiction, 'The Story of This Book'. The poems are gathered in sixteen separate sections; the titles have their own inner logic: "Morning and May", "Feasts: Fairs: Beggars: Gypsies", "Summer: Greenwood: Solitude", "Dance, Music and Bells", and so on. The final section, "About and Roundabout" consists of 300 pages of notes on the poems.
still working for the oil company, de la Mare commuted between home and
work using public transport. ". . . it would not be far from the
truth – odd as it may seem on the face of it –
to say that the dominant symbol in Mr. de la Mare's short stories is
the railway station or the railway journey," Graham Greene said in his
essay 'Walter de la Mare's Short Stories'. (The Lost Childhood: And Other Essays by Graham Greene, 1951, p. 79) De la Mare wrote about 100 short stories, most of them were first published in magazines. The major
collections include The Riddle and
Other Stories (1923), On the
Edge (1930), and A Beginning
and Other Stories (1955), which came out less than a year before his death. His early pieces were posthumously
assembled as Eight Tales
From the mid-1930s de la Mare wrote no more short stories, but focused on poetry. Never feeling any need to experiment, he used the old forms, the sonnet, the quatrain. Graham Greene has argued that de la Mare was more interesting as a prose writer than a poet. Dylan Thomas was also an admirer of his fiction. De la Mare's essays and critical work include studies of R. Brooke (1919) and Lewis Carroll-L.C. Dodgson (1932), and an edition of C. Rossetti in 1930. De la Mare was one of the legatees of his fellow poet Rupert Brooke.
For further reading: Poet to Poet: Edward Thomas's Letters to Walter de la Mare, ed. by Judy Kendall (2012); Walter de la Mare, Poetry and Novels: An Evaluation by Chhote Lal Khatri, Kumar Chandradeep (2003); Imagination of the Heart: The Life of Walter De La Mare by Theresa Whistler (1994); Walter De La Mare: An Exploration by John Alfred Atkins (1975); Walter de La Mare: A Biography and Critical Study by R.L. Megroz (1972): Walter De LA Mare: A Critical Study by Forrest Reid (1970); Walter De La Mare: A Study of His Poetry by Henry Charles Duffin (1970); Walter de la Mare by D.R. McCrosson (1966); Walter de la Mare by K. Hopkins (1953)