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To Walter de la Mare -- T S Eliot

My thanks to Anustup Datta for introducing me to this poem, a long time ago:
(Poem #630) To Walter de la Mare
 The children who explored the brook and found
 A desert island with a sandy cove
 (A hiding place, but very dangerous ground,

 For here the water buffalo may rove,
 The kinkajou, the mungabey, abound
 In the dark jungle of a mango grove,

 And shadowy lemurs glide from tree to tree -
 The guardians of some long-lost treasure-trove)
 Recount their exploits at the nursery tea

 And when the lamps are lit and curtains drawn
 Demand some poetry, please. Whose shall it be,
 At not quite time for bed? ...

                            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;

 When the familiar is suddenly strange
 Or the well known is what we yet have to learn,
 And two worlds meet, and intersect, and change;

 When cats are maddened in the moonlight dance,
 Dogs cower, flitter bats, and owls range
 At witches' sabbath of the maiden aunts;

 When the nocturnal traveller can arouse
 No sleeper by his call; or when by chance
 An empty face peers from an empty house;

 By whom, and by what means, was this designed?
 The whispered incantation which allows
 Free passage to the phantoms of the mind?

 By you; by those deceptive cadences
 Wherewith the common measure is refined;
 By conscious art practised with natural ease;

 By the delicate, invisible web you wove -
 The inexplicable mystery of sound.
-- T S Eliot
Written for inclusion in 'A Tribute to Walter de la Mare' (Faber & Faber
Ltd., 1948), a book presented to him on his seventy-fifth birthday.

In recent days we've been exploring various dream-worlds, and I can think of
no better way to conclude the theme than with this homage to the master
dream-weaver, Walter de la Mare. He'll never be counted a great poet;
perhaps he won't even be remembered as a good one (his verse does suffer
from sentimentality and an overly lush Romanticism); but to all those who
(like me) have grown up with his poetry, voyaging in the far seas of his
magnificent imagination, he's unforgettable.

Let it be said, also, that there are very few writers with de la Mare's
wonderful mastery of _atmosphere_: Yeats and Kipling spring to mind, though
the immortal John Keats is perhaps the only poet who can unequivocally be
called his superior in this regard [1]. Even the normally staid Eliot is not
unmoved by it; he talks about "the inexplicable mystery of sound" in terms
approaching awe.

As a matter of fact, Eliot does very well indeed in capturing the quiddity
of de la Mare's art; his tribute describes - no, _explores_ various corners
of the latter's wonderful, mysterious universe with great felicity; his
verse is almost equally evocative [2], equally delicate and equally
refined... today's poem is truly one of those rare occasions where sense,
structure and intent come together in one happy whole.


PS. "two worlds meet, and intersect, and change" - mmm. Lines like that
ought to be savoured for hours on end, don't you think?

[1] I _like_ Keats. Yes, he's a Romantic, and I tend to dislike the
Romantics, but still. Keats was something special.

[2] Damn, and I was doing so well, too. Sometimes I think I'll never be free
of the tyranny of the E word <grin>.

[Minstrels Links]

Dream poems:
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "The Slave's Dream", Poem #628
Laurence Hope, "Reverie of Mahomed Akram", Poem #627
Wilfred Gibson, "The Ice-Cart", Poem #622
and further back, a host of others, all of which you can read at

de la Mare poems:
"The Listeners", Poem #2
"Napoleon", Poem #272
"Breughel's Winter", Poem #483

Eliot poems: a whole bunch of them, which you can browse at
[broken link]

[Random Ramblings]

(Sorry, it's three in the morning and I'm really sleepy).

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