Walter De La Mare



Walter John de la Mare 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, 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.

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.