Walter de la Mare

[duh luh mair, del-uh mair]
Walter John de la Mare (surname pronounced /ˈdɛləˌmeə(ɹ)/), OM CH (25 April 187322 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 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;

One of de la Mare's special interests was the imagination, and this contributed both to the popularity of his children's writing and to his other work occasionally being taken less seriously than it deserved.

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.

The imagination

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.

Come Hither

Come Hither was an anthology, mostly of poetry with some prose. It has a frame story, and can be read on several levels. It was first published in 1923, and was a success; further editions followed. Alongside the children's literature aspect, it also provides a selection of the leading Georgian poets (from de la Mare's perspective). It is arguably also the best account of their 'hinterland', documenting thematic concerns and a selection of their predecessors.


Walter John de la Mare was born to James Edward de la Mare, a clerk at the bank of England, and Lucy Sophia Browning. He had two brothers Arthur Edward and James Herbert but apparently had up to 6 siblings. He married Elfrida Ingpen with whom he had 4 children - Richard Herbert Ingpen, Jimmie, Colin and Florence de la Mare.



  • Henry Brocken (1904)
  • The Three Mulla Mulgars (1910) — also published as The Three Royal Monkeys
  • The Return (1910)
  • Memoirs of a Midget (1921)
  • At First Sight (1930)

Short story collections

  • The Riddle and Other Stories (1923)
  • Ding Dong Bell (1924)
  • Broomsticks and Other Tales (1925)
  • The Connoisseur and Other Stories (1926)
  • On the Edge (1930)
  • The Lord Fish (1930)
  • The Walter de la Mare Omnibus (1933)
  • The Wind Blows Over (1936)
  • The Nap and Other Stories (1936)
  • The Best Stories of Walter de la Mare (1942)
  • A Beginning and Other Stories (1955)
  • Eight Tales (1971)

Poetry collections

  • Songs of Childhood (1902)
  • The Listeners (1912)
  • Peacock Pie (1913)
  • The Marionettes (1918)
  • O Lovely England (1952)


  • Crossings: A Fairy Play (1921)


  • Some Women Novelists of the 'Seventies (1929)
  • Desert Islands and Robinson Crusoe (1930)

Anthologies edited

  • Come Hither (1923)
  • Behold, This Dreamer! (1939)



External links

See also

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