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A 1924 photo of Walter de la Mare by Lady Ottoline Morrell

Walter John de la Mare (pronounced /ˈdɛləmɛər/[1]), OM CH (25 April 1873 – 22 June 1956) was an English poet, short story writer and novelist, probably best remembered for his works for children and "The Listeners".

He was born in Kent (at 83 Maryon Road, Charlton[2], now part of the London Borough of Greenwich), descended from a family of French Huguenots, and was educated at St Paul's Cathedral School.

His first book, Songs of Childhood, was published under the name Walter Ramal. He worked in the statistics department of the London office of Standard Oil for eighteen years while struggling to bring up a family, but nevertheless found enough time to write, and, in 1908, through the efforts of Sir Henry Newbolt he received a Civil List pension which enabled him to concentrate on writing.

De la Mare also wrote some subtle psychological horror stories; "Seaton's Aunt" and "Out of the Deep" are noteworthy examples. His 1921 novel, Memoirs of a Midget, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction.


The imagination

De la Mare described two distinct "types" of imagination — although "aspects" might be a better term: the childlike and the boylike. It was at the border between the two that Shakespeare, Dante, and the rest of the great poets lay.

De la Mare claimed that all children fall into the category of having a childlike imagination at first, which is usually replaced at some point in their lives. In his lecture, "Rupert Brooke and the Intellectual Imagination," he argued that children ". . . are not so closely confined and bound in by their groping senses. Facts to them are the liveliest of chameleons . . . They are contemplatives, solitaries, fakirs, who sink again and again out of the noise and fever of existence and into a waking vision." Doris Ross McCrosson summarizes this passage, "Children are, in short, visionaries." This visionary view of life can be seen as either vital creativity and ingenuity, or fatal disconnection from reality (or, in a limited sense, both).

The increasing intrusions of the external world upon the mind, however, frighten the childlike imagination, which "retires like a shocked snail into its shell." From then onward the boyish imagination flourishes, the "intellectual, analytical type."

By adulthood (de la Mare proposed), the childlike imagination has either retreated for ever or grown bold enough to face the real world. Thus emerge the two extremes of the spectrum of adult minds: the mind molded by the boylike is "logical" and "deductive." That shaped by the childlike becomes "intuitive, inductive." De la Mare's summary of this distinction is, "The one knows that beauty is truth, the other reveals that truth is beauty." Another way he puts it is that the visionary's source of poetry is within, while the intellectual's sources are without — external — in "action, knowledge of things, and experience," as McCrosson puts it. De la Mare hastens to add that this does not make the intellectual's poetry any less good, but it is clear where his own preference lies.

A note to avoid confusion: The term "imagination" in the lecture "Rupert Brooke and the Intellectual Imagination" is used to refer to both the intellectual and the visionary. To simplify and clarify his language, de la Mare generally used the more conventional "reason" and "imagination" when discussing the same idea elsewhere.

Writer Joan Aiken cites some of his short stories such as Almond Trees and Snow Mountains for their sometimes unexplained quality, which she also employs in her own work.[3]

Come Hither

Come Hither was an anthology, edited by De la Mare, mostly of poetry with some prose. It has a frame story, and can be read on several levels. It was first published in 1923, and was a success; further editions followed. Alongside the children's literature aspect, it also provides a selection of the leading Georgian poets (from de la Mare's perspective). It is arguably also the best account of their 'hinterland', documenting thematic concerns and a selection of their predecessors.


De la Mare was also a significant writer of ghost stories. John Clute comments that "in his long career, De la Mare seems to have published about 100 stories, of which about eighty-five have been collected. At least forty of these have supernatural content".[4] Many of De la Mare's ghost stories can be found in the collections Eight Tales, The Riddle and Other Stories, The Connoisseur and Other Stories, On the Edge and The Wind Blows Over.


Walter John de la Mare was born to James Edward de la Mare, a clerk at the bank of England, and Lucy Sophia Browning (James' second wife), daughter of Scottish naval surgeon & author Dr Colin Arrott Browning. The assertion that Lucy was related to poet Robert Browning has been found to be incorrect. He had two brothers, Francis Arthur Edward and James Herbert ('Bert'), and four sisters Florence Mary, Constance Eliza, Ethel (who died in infancy), and Ada Mary ('Poppy'). De la Mare was known as Jack by his family and friends as he hated the name Walter.

In 1892, De la Mare joined the Esperanza Amateur Dramatics Club, where he met and fell in love with Elfrida (Elfie) Ingpen, the leading lady. Elfie was ten years older than De la Mare. On August 4, 1899 De la Mare and Elfie, who was by then pregnant, were married. They went on to have 4 children – Richard Herbert Ingpen ('Dick'), Colin, Florence and Lucy Elfrida ('Jinnie') de la Mare. In 1940 Elfie was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and spent the rest of her life as an invalid, eventually dying in 1943. From 1940 until his death, De la Mare lived in Montpelier Row, Twickenham, the same street where Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson had lived a century earlier.[5] In 1947 he suffered from coronary thrombosis and died of another in 1956.




  • Henry Brocken (1904)
  • The Three Mulla Mulgars (1910) — also published as The Three Royal Monkeys (children's novel)
  • The Return (1910; revised edition 1922; second revised edition 1945)
  • Memoirs of a Midget (1921)

Short story collections

  • The Riddle and Other Stories (1923)
  • Ding Dong Bell (1924)
  • Broomsticks and Other Tales (1925)(children's stories)
  • The Connoisseur and Other Stories (1926)
  • On the Edge (1930)
  • The Lord Fish (1930)(children's stories)
  • The Walter de la Mare Omnibus (1933)
  • The Wind Blows Over (1936)
  • The Nap and Other Stories (1936)
  • Stories, Essays and Poems (1938)
  • The Best Stories of Walter de la Mare (1942)
  • A Beginning and Other Stories (1955)
  • Eight Tales (1971)
  • Walter de la Mare, Short Stories 1895–1926 (1996), Walter de la Mare, Short Stories 1927–1956 (2000), and Walter de la Mare, Short Stories for Children (2006) (Complete edition, ed. Giles de la Mare)

Poetry collections

  • Songs of Childhood (1902)
  • The Listeners (1912)
  • Peacock Pie (1913)
  • The Marionettes (1918)
  • O Lovely England (1952)
  • Walter de la Mare, The Complete Poems ed. Giles de la Mare (1969)


  • Crossings: A Fairy Play (1921)


  • Some Women Novelists of the 'Seventies (1929)
  • Desert Islands and Robinson Crusoe (1930)

Anthologies edited

  • Come Hither (1923)
  • Desert Islands, and Robinson Crusoe (1930)
  • Early one Morning, in the Spring. Chapters on children and on childhood as it is revealed in particular in early memories and in early writings. (1935)
  • Behold, This Dreamer! Of reverie, night, sleep, dream, love-dreams, nightmare, death, the unconscious, the imagination, divination, the artist, and kindred subjects. (1939)
  • Love (1943)

References in other works

De la Mare's play Crossings has an important role in Robertson Davies' novel The Manticore. In 1944, when the protagonist David Staunton is sixteen, de la Mare's play is produced by the pupils of his sister's school in Toronto, Canada. Staunton falls deeply in love with the girl playing the main role – a first love which would have a profound effect on the rest of his life.


  1. ^ Alec Guinness, Blessings in Disguise, p. 93
  2. ^ Walter de la Mare. PoemHunter.Com. Retrieved on 23 September 2007.
  3. ^ Aiken, Joan; in Geoff Fox, Graham Hammond, Terry Jones, Frederic Smith, Kenneth Sterck (eds.) (1976). Writers, Critics, and Children. New York: Agathon Press. pp. 24. ISBN 0-87586-054-0. 
  4. ^ John Clute, "Walter de la Mare" in E.F. Bleiler, ed, Supernatural Fiction Writers: Fantasy and Horror Vol 1 (Scribners Sons, 1985)
  5. ^ De la Mare in Twickenham


  • Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. pp. 96–97. 
  • Imagination of the Heart:The Life of Walter de la Mare (1993) Theresa Whistler
  • Walter de la Mare (1966) Doris Ross McCrosson

External links

See also


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Walter John de la Mare, OM, CH (April 25, 1873June 22, 1956) was an English poet, short story writer, and novelist. Many of his poems and stories were for children, though he believed that there is no such thing as a good poem for children, only a good poem that children can understand.



  • Slowly, silently, now the moon
    Walks the night in her silver shoon.
    • Silver
  • A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
    With silver claws and silver eye;
    And moveless fish in the water gleam,
    By silver reeds in a silver stream.
    • Silver
  • Here lies a most beautiful lady,
    Light of step and heart was she;
    I think she was the most beautiful lady
    That ever was in the West Country.
    • An Epitaph
  • But beauty vanishes; beauty passes;
    However rare—rare it be;
    And when I crumble, who will remember
    This lady of the West Country?
    • An Epitaph
  • Look thy last on all things lovely,
    Every hour—let no night
    Seal thy sense in deathly slumber
    Till to delight
    Thou hast paid thy utmost blessing.
    • Fare Well, st. 3 (1918)
  • ‘Who knocks?’ ‘I, who was beautiful,
    Beyond all dreams to restore,
    I from the roots of the dark thorn am hither,
    And knock on the door.’
    • The Ghost
  • A face peered. All the grey night
    In chaos of vacancy shone;
    Nought but vast sorrow was there—
    The sweet cheat gone.
    • The Ghost
  • Do diddle di do,
    Poor Jim Jay
    Got stuck fast
    In Yesterday.
    • Jim Jay
  • It's a very odd thing&mdas;
    As odd as can be—
    That whatever Miss T. eats
    Turns into Miss T.
    • Miss T.
  • Three jolly huntsmen,
    In coats of red,
    Rode their horses
    Up to bed.
    • The Huntsmen
  • Bang! Now the animal
    Is dead and dumb and done.
    Nevermore to peep again, creep again, leap again,
    Eat or sleep or drink again, oh, what fun!
    • Hi!
  • Wonderful lovely there she sat,
    Singing the night away,
    All in the solitudinous sea
    Of that there lonely bay.
    • Sam
  • For beauty with sorrow
    Is a burden hard to be borne:
    The evening light on the foam, and the swans, there;
    That music, remote, forlorn.
    • The Old Summerhouse
  • Some one came knocking
    At my wee, small door;
    Some one came knocking,
    I’m sure—sure—sure.
    • Some One Came Knocking
  • Softly along the road of evening,
    In a twilight dim with rose,
    Wrinkled with age, and drenched with dew
    Old Nod, the shepherd, goes.
    • Nod
  • His are the quiet steeps of dreamland,
    The waters of no-more-pain;
    His ram’s bell rings ‘neath an arch of stars,
    “Rest, rest, and rest again.”
    • Nod
  • We wake and whisper awhile,
    But, the day gone by,
    Silence and sleep like fields
    Of amaranth lie.
    • All That's Past
  • Oh, no man knows
    Through what wild centuries
    Roves back the rose.
    • All That's Past
  • Old Rover in his moss-greened house
    Mumbles a bone, and barks at a mouse.
    • Summer Evening
  • Dobbin at manger pulls his hay:
    Gone is another summer’s day.
    • Summer Evening
  • All but blind
    In his chambered hole
    Gropes for worms
    The four-clawed Mole.
    • All But Blind
  • So, blind to Someone
    I must be.
    • All But Blind
  • What lovely things
    Thy hand hath made.
    • The Scribe
  • “Bunches of grapes,” says Timothy;
    “Pomegranates pink,” says Elaine;
    “A junket of cream and a cranberry tart
    For me,” says Jane.
    • Bunches of Grapes
  • “A bumpity ride in a wagon of hay”
    • Bunches of Grapes
  • Poor tired Tim! It’s sad for him
    He lags the long bright morning through,
    Ever so tired of nothing to do.
    • Tired Tim
  • ‘What is the world, O soldiers?
    It is I,
    I, this incessant snow,
    This northern sky.
    • Napoleon

The Listeners (1912)

  • "Is anybody there?" said the Traveler,
    Knocking on the moonlit door;
    And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
    Of the forest's ferny floor.
  • "Tell them I came, and no one answered,
    That I kept my word," he said.
  • Never the least stir made the listeners,
    Though every word he spake
    Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
    From the one man left awake:
    Aye, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
    And the sound of iron on stone,
    And how the silence surged softly backward,
    When the plunging hoofs were gone.

The Song of the Mad Prince

  • Who said "Peacock Pie"?
    The old king to the sparrow:
    Who said "Crops are ripe"?
    Rust to the harrow.

    Who said, "Ay, mum's the word"?
    Sexton to willow.
    Who said, "Green dusk for dream?"
    Moss for a pillow.

    Who said, "All Time’s delight
    Hath she for narrow bed;
    Life’s troubled bubble broken"?—
    That’s what I said.

About Walter de la Mare

  • The delicate, invisible web you wove
    The inexplicable mystery of sound.
  • Or when the lawn
    Is pressed by unseen feet, and ghosts return
    Gently at twilight, gently go at dawn,
    The sad intangible who grieve and yearn...
    • T.S. Eliot, To Walter de la Mare

External links

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