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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,
Every hour – let no night
Seal thy sense in deathly slumber
Till to delight
Thou hast paid thy utmost blessing.

(from 'Fare Well,' 1918)

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 career as a writer started in about 1895 and he continued to publish to the end of his life. His first published story, 'Kismet' (1895), appeared in the Sketch under the pseudonym Walter Ramal.

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 had a flat at South End House, Montpelier Row. 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. In 1904 there appeared under his own name the prose romance Henry Brocken, in which the young hero sets out an allegorical journey. Brocken encounters fictional characters and writers from the past, 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."Mare 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 similarities to Blake.

During de la Mare's lifetime, no full-length feature films were produced from his writings. 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,
In coats of red,
Rode their horses
Up to bed.

(from 'The Huntsmen', Peacock Pie: A Book of Rhymes, 1913)

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 successful books 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.

De la Mare wrote about 100 short stories. The major collections include The Riddle and Other Stories (1923), On the Edge (1930), and A Beginning and Other Stories (1955). His early pieces were posthumously assembled as Eight Tales (1971). 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. 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)

Selected works:

  • Songs of Childhood, 1902 (as Walter Ramal)
  • Henry Brocken: His Travels And Adventures in the Rich, Strange, Scarce, Imaginable Regions of Romance, 1904
  • Poems 1906
  • The Return, 1910
  • The Three Mulla Mulgars, 1910
  • A Child's Day: A Book of Rhymes, 1912
  • The Listeners, and Other Poems, 1912
  • Peacock Pie: A Book of Rhymes, 1913
  • The Old Men, 1913
  • The Sunken Garden, 1917
  • Motley, 1918
  • The Marionettes, 1918
  • Rupert Brooke and the Intellectual Imagination, 1919
  • Flora, 1919
  • Collected Poems, 1901-1918, 1920 (2 vols.)
  • Memoirs of a Midget, 1921 (reprinted in 1982, with a preface by Angela Carter)
  • Story and Rhyme, 1921
  • Crossings: A Fairy Play, 1921
  • The Veil, 1921
  • Down-Adown-Derry. A Book of Fairy Poems, 1922
  • Come Hither: A Collection of Rhymes and Poems For the Young of All Ages, 1923 (ed.)
  • Lispet, Lispet, and Vaine, 1923
  • The Riddle and Other Stories, 1923
  • Some Thoughts of Reading, 1923
  • Thus Her Tale: A Poem, 1923
  • Ding Dong Bell, 1924
  • A Ballad of Christmas, 1924
  • Broomsticks and Other Tales, 1925
  • Two Tales: I. The Connoisseur and Other Stories, 1925
  • The Hostage, 1925
  • St. Andrews, 1926 (with Rudyard Kipling)
  • (Poems), 1926
  • Stuff and Nonsense, 1927
  • Told Again: Traditional Tales, 1927
  • Alone, 1927
  • Selected Poems, 1927
  • The Captive and Other Poems, 1928
  • Self to Self, 1928
  • A Snowdrop, 1929
  • At First Sight, 1928
  • Stories from the Bible, 1929
  • Some Women Novelists of the 'Seventies, 1929
  • Poems for Childreb, 1930
  • On the Edge, 1930
  • News, 1930
  • The Lord Fish, 1930
  • Desert Islands and Robinson Crusoe, 1930 (ed.)
  • Seven Short Stories, 1931
  • The Printing of Poetry, 1931
  • To Lucy, 1931
  • The Sunken Garden and Other Verses, 1931
  • Two Poems, 1931
  • Tom Tiddler's Ground, 1932
  • The Early Novels of Wilkie Collins, 1932 (essay)
  • Lewis Carroll, 1932
  • The Lord Fish, 1933
  • The Fleeting and Other Poems, 1933
  • The Walter de la Mare Omnibus, 1933
  • A Forward Child, 1934
  • Poems 1919-1934, 1935
  • Early One Morning in the Spring, 1935
  • The Wind Blows Over, 1936
  • The Nap and Other Stories, 1936
  • Poetry in Prose, 1936
  • This Year, Next Year, 1937
  • Memory, 1938
  • Two Poems, 1938
  • Animal Stories, 1939
  • Arthus Thompson, 1938
  • An Introduction to Everyman, 1938
  • Stories, Essays and Poems, 1938
  • Behold This Dreamer, 1939 (ed.)
  • Haunted: A Poem, 1939
  • Pleasures and Speculations, 1940
  • The Picnic and Other Stories, 1941
  • Bells and Grass: A Book of Rhymes, 1941
  • The Old Lion and Other Stories, 1942
  • Time Passes and Other Poems, 1942
  • Mr. Bumps and His Monkey, 1942
  • Collected Poems, 1942
  • Love, 1943 (ed.)
  • The Magic Jacket and Other Stories, 1943
  • Collected Rhymes and Verses, 1944
  • The Burning Glass, 1945
  • The Scarecrow, 1945
  • The Traveller, 1946
  • The Dutch Cheese and Other Stories, 1946
  • Two Poems: Pride, The Truth of Things, 1946
  • Rhymes and Verses, 1947
  • Collected Stories for Children, 1947
  • Inward Companion, 1950
  • The Collected Tales of Walter de la Mare, 1950
  • Winged Chariot, 1951
  • Selected Stories and Verses, 1952
  • O Lovely England, 1953
  • Private Views, 1953
  • Selected Poems, 1954 (ed. R.N. Green-Armytage)
  • The Winnowing Dream, 1954 (illustrated by Robin Jacques) 
  • A Beginning and Other Stories, 1955
  • The Morrow, 1955
  • Ghost Stories, 1956
  • Walter de la Mare: A Selection from His Writings, 1956 (ed. Kenneth Hopkins)
  • A Penny a Day, 1960
  • The Magic Jacket, 1962
  • Poems, 1962 (ed. Eleanor Graham)
  • (Poems), 1962 (ed. John Hatfield)
  • A Choice of de la Mare's Verses, 1963 (selected by W.H.Auden)
  • Envoi, 1965
  • The Complete Poems, 1969 (ed. Leonard Clark et al.)
  • Collected Rhymes abd Verses, 1970
  • Eight Tales, 1971
  • Collected Poems, 1979
  • Molly Whuppie, 1983
  • The Voice, 1986
  • Short Stories 1895-1926, 1999 (ed. Giles De La Mare)
  • Poems 1901 to 1918, 2000 (2 vols.)
  • Short Stories 1927-1956, 2002 (ed. Giles De La Mare)
  • Strangers and Pilgrims, 2007 (introduction by Mark Valentine)

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