Walter John de la Mare OM CH was an English poet, short story writer, and novelist. He is probably best remembered for his works for children, for his poem “The Listeners”, and for a highly acclaimed selection of subtle psychological horror stories, amongst them “Seaton’s Aunt” and “All Hallows”.
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Famous Walter de la Mare Poems
As I mused by the hearthside,
Puss said to me;
‘there burns the fire , man,
and here sit we.
Four walls around us
against the cold air;
and the latch drawn close
to the draughty stair.
A roof o’er our heads
star-proof, moon immune,
and a wind in the chimney
to wail us a tune.’
‘What felicity!’ miaowed he,
‘where none may intrude;
just man and beast- met
in this solitude!’
‘Dear God, what security,
comfort and bliss!
and to think, too what ages
have brought us to this!’
‘You in your sheep’s’ wool coat,
buttons of bone,
and me in my fur-about
on the warm hearthstone’
The Three Strangers
Far are those tranquil hills,
Dyed with fair evening’s rose;
On urgent, secret errand bent,
A traveller goes.
Approach him strangers three,
Barefooted, cowled; their eyes
Scan the lone, hastening solitary
With dumb surmise.
One instant in close speech
With them he doth confer:
God-sped, he hasteneth on,
That anxious traveller….
I was that man — in a dream:
And each world’s night in vain
I patient wait on sleep to unveil
Those vivid hills again.
Would that they three could know
How yet burns on in me
Love — from one lost in Paradise —
For their grave courtesy.
Up And Down
Down the Hill of Ludgate,
Up the Hill of Fleet,
To and fro and East and West
With people flows the street;
Even the King of England
On Temple Bar must beat
For leave to ride to Ludgate
Down the Hill of Fleet.
The Old Men
Old and alone, sit we,
Caged, riddle-rid men;
Lost to earth’s ‘Listen!’ and ‘See!’
Thought’s ‘Wherefore?’ and ‘When?’
Only far memories stray
Of a past once lovely, but now
Wasted and faded away,
Like green leaves from the bough.
Vast broods the silence of night,
The ruinous moon
Lifts on our faces her light,
Whence all dreaming is gone.
We speak not; trembles each head;
In their sockets our eyes are still;
Desire as cold as the dead;
Without wonder or will.
And One, with a lanthorn, draws near,
At clash with the moon in our eyes:
‘Where art thou?’ he asks: ‘I am here,’
One by one we arise.
And none lifts a hand to withhold
A friend from the touch of that foe:
Heart cries unto heart, ‘Thou art old!’
Yet reluctant, we go.
Flee into some forgotten night and be
Of all dark long my moon-bright company:
Beyond the rumour even of Paradise come,
There, out of all remembrance, make our home:
Seek we some close hid shadow for our lair,
Hollowed by Noah’s mouse beneath the chair
Wherein the Omnipotent, in slumber bound,
Nods till the piteous Trump of Judgment sound.
Perchance Leviathan of the deep sea
Would lease a lost mermaiden’s grot to me,
There of your beauty we would joyance make —
A music wistful for the sea-nymph’s sake:
Haply Elijah, o’er his spokes of fire,
Cresting steep Leo, or the heavenly Lyre,
Spied, tranced in azure of inanest space,
Some eyrie hostel, meet for human grace,
Where two might happy be — just you and I —
Lost in the uttermost of Eternity.
Think! in Time’s smallest clock’s minutest beat
Might there not rest be found for wandering feet?
Or, ‘twixt the sleep and wake of Helen’s dream,
Silence wherein to sing love’s requiem?
No, no. Nor earth, nor air, nor fire, nor deep
Could lull poor mortal longingness asleep.
Somewhere there nothing is; and there lost Man
Shall win what changeless vague of peace he can.
Black lacqueys at the wide-flung door
Stand mute as men of wood.
Gleams like a pool the ballroom floor —
A burnished solitude.
A hundred waxen tapers shine
From silver sconces; softly pine
‘Cello, fiddle, mandoline,
To music deftly wooed —
And dancers in cambric, satin, silk,
With glancing hair and cheeks like milk,
Wreathe, curtsey, intertwine.
The drowse of roses lulls the air
Wafted up the marble stair.
Like warbling water clucks the talk.
From room to room in splendour walk
Guests, smiling in the æry sheen;
Carmine and azure, white and green,
They stoop and languish, pace and preen
Bare shoulder, painted fan,
Gemmed wrist and finger, neck of swan;
And still the pluckt strings warble on;
Still from the snow-bowered, link-lit street
The muffled hooves of horses beat;
And harness rings; and foam-fleckt bit
Clanks as the slim heads toss and stare
From deep, dark eyes. Smiling, at ease,
Mount to the porch the pomped grandees
In lonely state, by twos, and threes,
Exchanging languid courtesies,
While torches fume and flare.
And now the banquet calls. A blare
Of squalling trumpets clots the air.
And, flocking out, streams up the rout;
And lilies nod to velvet’s swish;
And peacocks prim on gilded dish,
Vast pies thick-glazed, and gaping fish,
Towering confections crisp as ice,
Jellies aglare like cockatrice,
With thousand savours tongues entice.
Fruits of all hues barbaric gloom —
Pomegranate, quince and peach and plum,
Mandarine, grape, and cherry clear
Englobe each glassy chandelier,
Where nectarous flowers their sweets distil —
Jessamine, tuberose, chamomill,
Wild-eye narcissus, anemone,
Tendril of ivy and vinery.
Now odorous wines the goblets fill;
Gold-cradled meats the menials bear
From gilded chair to gilded chair:
Now roars the talk like crashing seas,
Foams upward to the painted frieze,
Echoes and ebbs. Still surges in,
To yelp of hautboy and violin,
Plumed and bedazzling, rosed and rare,
Dance-bemused, with cheek aglow,
Stooping the green-twined portal through,
Sighing with laughter, debonair,
That concourse of the proud and fair —
And lo! ‘La, la!
Mamma … Mamma!’
Falls a small cry in the dark and calls —
‘I see you standing there!’
Fie, fie, Sephina! not in bed!
Crouched on the staircase overhead,
Like ghost she gloats, her lean hand laid
On alabaster balustrade,
And gazes on and on
Down on that wondrous to and fro
Till finger and foot are cold as snow,
And half the night is gone;
And dazzled eyes are sore bestead;
Nods drowsily the sleek-locked head;
And, vague and far, spins, fading out,
That rainbow-coloured, reeling rout,
And, with faint sighs, her spirit flies
Into deep sleep….
Come, Stranger, peep!
Was ever cheek so wan?
The World Of Dream
Now, through the dusk
With muffled bell
The Dustman comes
The World to tell,
Night’s elfin lanterns
Burn and gleam
in the twilight, wonderful
World of Dream.
Hollow and dim
Sleep’s boat doth ride,
At the waterside.
The children come,
Yawning and sleepy,
Out of the gloom.
Like droning bees
in a garden green.
Over the thwarts
They clamber in.
And lovely Sleep
With long-drawn oar
From the whispering shore.
Over the water
Like roses glide
Her hundreds of passengers
To where in her garden
Tremble and gleam
The harps and lamps
Of the World of Dream.
Mulla-Mulgars’ Journey Song
That one, alone,
Who’s dared and gone
To seek the Magic Wonderstone,
No fear, or care,
Or black despair
Shall heed until his journey’s done.
Who knows, where grows
The Mulgars’ rose,
In valleys ‘neath unmelting snows –
All secrets, he
Shall pierce and see,
And walk unharmed where’er he goes.
Puss loves man’s winter fire
Now that the sun so soon
Leaves the hours cold it warmed
In burning June.
She purrs full length before
The heaped-up hissing blaze,
Drowsy in slumber down
Her head she lays.
While he with whom she dwells
Sits snug in his inglenook,
Stretches his legs to the flame
And reads his book.
Dearest, it was a night
That in its darkness rocked Orion’s stars;
A sighing wind ran faintly white
Along the willows, and the cedar boughs
Laid their wide hands in stealthy peace across
The starry silence of their antique moss:
No sound save rushing air
Cold, yet all sweet with Spring,
And in thy mother’s arms, couched weeping there,
Thou, lovely thing.
THERE is wind where the rose was,
Cold rain where sweet grass was,
And clouds like sheep
Stream o’er the steep
Grey skies where the lark was.
Nought warm where your hand was,
Nought gold where your hair was,
But phantom, forlorn,
Beneath the thorn,
Your ghost where your face was.
Cold wind where your voice was,
Tears, tears where my heart was,
And ever with me,
Child, ever with me,
Silence where hope was.
The seeds I sowed –
For week unseen –
Have pushed up pygmy
Shoots of green;
So frail you’d think
The tiniest stone
Would never let
A glimpse be shown.
But no; a pebble
Near them lies,
At least a cherry-stone
Which that mere sprout
Has heaved away,
To bask in sunshine,
See the Day.
The Mother Bird
Through the green twilight of a hedge
I peered, with cheek on the cool leaves pressed,
And spied a bird upon a nest:
Two eyes she had beseeching me
Meekly and brave, and her brown breast
Throbb’d hot and quick above her heart;
And then she oped her dagger bill, –
‘Twas not a chirp, as sparrows pipe
At break of day; ’twas not a trill,
As falters through the quiet even;
But one sharp solitary note,
One desperate, fierce, and vivid cry
Of valiant tears, and hopeless joy,
One passionate note of victory:
Off, like a fool afraid, I sneaked,
Smiling the smile the fool smiles best,
At the mother bird in the secret hedge
Patient upon her lonely nest.
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, “Where sleeps she now?
Where rests she now her head,
Bathed in eve’s loveliness”? —
That’s what I said.
Who said, “Ay, mum’s the word”?
Sexton to willow:
Who said, “Green dusk for dreams,
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.
Dry August Burned
Dry August burned. A harvest hare
Limp on the kitchen table lay,
Its fur blood-blubbered, eye astare,
While a small child that stood near by
Wept out her heart to see it there.
Sharp came the clop of hoofs, the clang
Of dangling chain, voices that rang
Out like a leveret she ran,
To feast her glistening bird-clear eyes
On a team of field artillery
Gay, to manaeuvres, thudding by.
Spur and gun and limber plate
Flashed in the sun. Alert, elate,
Noble horses, foam at lip,
Harness, stirrup, holster, whip,
She watched the sun-tanned soldiery,
Till dust-white hedge had hidden away —
Its din into a rumour thinned —
The laughing, jolting, wild array:
And then — the wonder and tumult gone —
Stood nibbling a green leaf, alone,
Her dark eyes, dreaming. . . . She turned, and ran,
Elf-like, into the house again.
The hare had vanished. . . . ‘ Mother, ‘ she said,
Her tear-stained cheek now flushed with red,
‘ Please, may I go and see it skinned? ‘