10 Feb 2009

The enigmatic poet

The Little Green Orchard

Some one is always sitting there,
In the little green orchard;
Even when the sun is high
In noon's unclouded sky,
And faintly droning goes
The bee from rose to rose,
Some one in shadow is sitting there
In the little green orchard.

Yes, when the twilight's falling softly
In the little green orchard;
When the grey dew distills
And every flower-cup fills;
When the last blackbird says,
'What - what!' and goes her way - ssh!
I have heard voices calling softly
In the little green orchard.

Not that I am afraid of being there,
In the little green orchard;
Why, when the moon's been bright,
Shedding her lonesome light,
And moths like ghosties come,
And the horned snail leaves home:
I've sat there, whispering and listening there,
In the little green orchard.

Only it's strange to be feeling there,
In the little green orchard;
Whether you paint or draw,
Dig, hammer, chop or saw;
When you are most alone,
All but the silence gone
Some one is watching and waiting there,
In the little green orchard.

Who - or what is it? It's an enigma!! And who - or what is the horseman?

The Horseman

I heard a horseman
Ride over the hill;
The moon shone clear,
The night was still;
His helm was silver,
And pale was he;
And the horse he rode
Was of ivory.

"Is he a knight?" "Maybe it's a white cloud!" "I think it's a ghost."

Many of Walter de la Mare's poems contain unanswered questions. They leave us wondering.

Jemimah always needs a satisfactory solution. We read the selection over again. We discuss, we hypothesise, we speculate. Finally she makes her decision. The horseman's a knight. Definitely. The visitor to the orchard's a fairy. The question has an answer.

The discussion is often animated - but always enjoyable.

Walter de la Mare's poetry allows us to use our imagination and to dream...Maybe he means this...or maybe that means that. His poetry is beautiful - the stuff that creates fond childhood memories. No child should miss out on this poet, he is truly one of the greats.

Despite our experiences of Walter de la Mare's poetry, not all Amblesiders share our views. The Yahoo groups are full of mums complaining that their children don't like this poet...and neither do they.

Certainly there are some of de la Mare's poems that are beyond the comprehension of many children - even some of his children's poems. There are other children who are concrete thinkers. They take things too literally to ever be fond of the enigmatic ambiguity of many of these poems. They fail to find a satisfactory answer from the poet himself, and lack the imagination to be able to create one for themselves. Probably de la Mare isn't the poet that is going to become that child's favourite. On the other hand, the child may grow to appreciate the beauty, the cleverness of some of his poems.

Take nature, for instance: Trees; Wanderers; The Little Bird; Bluebells; The Hare; The Rainbow; The Mother Bird; A Goldfinch; The Warbler. A clear appreciation of nature shines through this poet's work. Now nature is something that Charlotte Mason kids can relate to - and these poems are simple, stark and beautiful. Take this one:

The Rainbow

I saw the lovely arch
Of Rainbow span the sky,
The gold sun burning
As the rain swept by.

In bright-ringed solitude
The showery foliage shone
One lovely moment,
And the Bow was gone.

If your child is a literal thinker you would do well to select your poems carefully, but don't give up all together without a fair trial.

De la Mare has that rare ability to really see. Look at his narration of Breughel's picture. Did you see what he did when you studied Hunters in the Snow? We didn't - and we didn't need to write it out in verse, even.

De la Mare knows kids too. He knows that they like nonsense - take The Bees' Song, for example, and he knows that they like puzzles - how can 3 cats have the five eyes that make up the poem's name? He likes the things that children like, as well as those that children like to fear: scarecrows and shepherds, ghosts and fairies, knights and huntsmen,sailors and mariners. He uses phrases like "Alas, alack", "do diddle di do" and "riddle-cum-ree".

Perhaps Walter de la Mare will appeal most to the child with imagination - the dreamer - but there is something in his work for everyone - young and old alike.

For a period between the wars, De la Mare was one of Britain's favourite poets and storytellers - he is just the kind of writer of whom one can use such a phrase - but few read him now. His books are not currently available through Amazon, except in used editions.

It is time they enjoyed renewed popularity.

CMers unite!!


  1. We just spent some time with Walter. You summed him up great! I agree, he s/b more prevalent!

  2. A great sequel to your CM moment!

    I was thrilled to see "Tartary" by de la Mare included in Jackie Morris' recently published anthology ,"BFB of Classic Poems."

    Will now look doubly forward to introducing him to Maxim in Year 2!

  3. Thanks for contributing this post to the CM Blog Carnival.

    Grace & Peace,

  4. Thanks for posting this! My dd10 just started de la Mare this week. :)

  5. We spent some time with Walter de la Mare, I think my kids interpret it better than I! It takes a young, imaginitive mind!

  6. We've been reading some of his poetry as well, and we've loved some, and some have left us scratching our heads. But it's still great exposure, and I like how you've explained him!

  7. Hi again Jeanne! We have just finished De La Mare and I have to say I STRUGGLED for quite a while!!! I hated poetry at school mainly for the poets we studied like him :O) However I decided to persevere and see what came of it and you know what I discovered as a result??? That words can be beautiful in and of themselves even if you don't understand any other part of them! Hahahaha!

  8. Loving being back here!!! "O))


I'd love you to leave me a message. Tell me what you like - and what you don't. Just remember that this is what we do in our family - it doesn't have to be what you do in yours...