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BY JEANNETTE MARKS
Out of fog I made a ship,
And for a sheet I took a fin
And for a bell I took a cry.
WALTER DE LA MARE
BY ALICE LOTHIAN
The first decade of this century was a dry season in English poetry. The full flood of Victorian verse had subsided, and the feeble trickle that survived was deflected into artificial fountains that tossed again and again in a fixed and limited are the same few bucketfuls of water. But here and there fresh waters were springing, as inaccessible to the general reader, and as hard to trace, as the secret springs of great rivers. By 1910 Walter de la Mare had published five volumes, in prose and verse, yet few came to the well. Then followed the age of the anthologist, in which we now are. By the labors of poetry-lovers the work of contemporary poets in England and America is sought out and made known to an ever-widening circle of readers. Now recognition and maturity have come to Mr. de la Mare hand-in-hand, and readers refreshed in the first instance by the rationed sips of the anthologists, have found their way to the fountainhead.
Of one thing we may be certain: The reader who dips and sips like a water wagtail skimming over a stream will never learn the poet's secret. His will be the partial view, the ready phrase. But a living literature, like a living religion, exists that we may have life and have it more abundantly; and we cannot possess ourselves of anything worth having unless we are prepared to “launch out into the deep and let down our nets for a draught". Such work as Mr. de la Mare's was not brought to birth that it might provide a peg for a witty saying at our next literary party, nor even for articles whereby the critic may in the sweat of his brow eat bread. “Certainly that was not my mother's way” with books, comments Miss M. in The Memoirs of a Midget. And Henry Brocken, too, knew what authors were about when “they labored from dawn to midnight, from laborious midnight to dawn”. His story, it is true, was told before Mr. Hugh Walpole had set the fashion of four hours' work a day—preferably before lunch, but on no account before breakfast.
With a knight of hosts and shades
Tes leagus bezord
The wide world's end:
Vethinks it is a journey. Henry Broken's journey begins placidly enough-almost, indeed, unawares. He sets off as usual for his morning ride on the eld mare Purinante. But soon we see how reading, as well as writing. may be a creative, life-giving activity. For first he meets Lues Grey wandering in the wild; then he spends a night with Jane Erre and Mr. Rochester, in their lonely house whose air is afloat with listeners. Thence he finds his way to the Garden of the Sleerides, where he lingers for a while with Herrick's lovely laddios. Journeying on, he turns a deaf ear to the song of the Lorelei, and flees from Prince Ennui and the Sleeping Beauty's enchanted courts. Then danger comes. Gulliver's Houyhnhnms charge down upon him, and only the Yahoo's loyalty saves him froin destruction. He travels on to the Inn at the World's End, where Christian’s neighbors still gossip and quarrel. Leaving thern behind, he comes to the shore where Annabel Lee builds sandcastles that can never be finished, unless the sea will stand still for only one day. Leaving her, and Rosinante, he rows into the night, and looks into the face of Criseyde in the Isle of Shades; and thence he journeys, on and on.
Some whom he meets would tempt him “with shelter and quiet
to give you rest, young man, and apples for thirst withal”; and some would daunt him with doubt and despair. Jane Eyre, at the very outset, would have deterred him, not from the dangers, but from the restlessness of such a journey. “I have never wandered beyond the woods,” she owns, “lest I should penetrate too far.” But Henry Brocken will not be held back, for “so long as Chance does not guide me back, I care not how far forward I go”. And whither? There is no fixed goal, only an endless seeking inspired by the faith that “somewhere yet, Imogen's mountains lift their chill summits into heaven; over haunted sea-sands Ariel flits; at his webbed casement next the stars Faust covets youth, till the last trump ring him out of dream.”
It is no restless human itch to be elsewhere that leads the trio of The Three Mulla Mulgars on “through forest and river, forest, , swamp and river". Little Nod and lean Thimble and fat old Thumb are comfort-loving animals, urged on by simple loyalty to their father's behest. They journey through strange scenes, described with a poet's sure grasp of the salient features of a landscape. They encounter strange and awesome creatures, the lure of magic and the menace of the unknown. They meet hardship and danger and success, with pluck and loyalty and silly vanity, just like men. But although Nod becomes deeply attached to kindly, lonesome Andy Battle, the only human being in this strange and lovely tale, flesh-eating humanity is alien and evil in Mulgar eyes. Nod, like the younger son of folk-lore, is beloved of the gods, and has the power in extremity of need to summon magic by rubbing the Wonder-stone, a pebble that tingles in his hand “like courage that steals into the mind when all else is vain”. And when at last, weary and travel-worn, the Mulgars drift in their rough and narrow rafts out of the dark cavern into the sunlit valley, “the long-sought, lovely Valleys of Tishnar", Nod is overcome by a sudden weariness and loneliness and sadness, and fear of the journey that has no end; for even the Promised Land, it would seem, is but a lodging for a night.
So it ever is in Mr. de la Mare's prose, and in his verse an undertone murmurs “whither?” Although no man knows to what end, nor in what unseen company we journey, the poet sees life as a voyage of discovery, calling at every turn of the tide for the
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Although Mr. de la Vare passes freely from poetry to prose, the content of his work is singularly homogeneous. His prose file is the background of his verse; and, except for the habit of inversion which throws the emphasis of a sentence forward or potassiu it, in the Latin manner, his verse at its most magical is singularly fror from poeticisms. No prose tale, for example, could swiss more straightforwardly than the poem that gives its title to The Listenera. "* Is there anybody there?' said the traveler, knocking on the moon-lit door. Such, written continuously am in proxe, is the simple and direct approach to a theme that is enveloped in that sense of nearness to the unseen that is Mr. de la Mare's peculiar contribution to contemporary verse. He has written few narrative poems, and the longest of these, The Three Queer Talex in Peacock Pie, together barely fill a dozen pages. poetry is alınost exclusively lyrical, suggesting its own music, and