'Stepping Out of the Gloaming' : A Reconsideration of the Poetry of Walter de la Mare
This study has two main objectives. The initial aim is consider why Walter
de la Mare has been viewed, and continues to be viewed, as a minor poet, and
to understand why critics have largely ignored his poetry for the majority of
the last forty years. The second aim is redress some of the accusations and
assumptions that have contributed towards his present academic neglect and propose
a cogent argument to suggest that his poetry deserves to receive greater critical
attention than it has done in recent years. In order to bring this study up
to the present date, the conclusion will consider the present critical attitude
to the poetry of de la Mare.
In addressing the main aims of this study, two inter-related points regarding his poetry will thus emerge. The first, which will be considered in greater depth in Chapter Two, is that he had the misfortune to be writing at a time of huge development in English Poetry, and English Literature in general. The rise of Modernism at the time of the First World War had the effect of creating 'new bearings in English poetry', bearings which influential critics such as Leavis subsequently believed were desperately required. In the wake of the eagerness to map a new poetic course de la Mare has often been misread, with this misreading occurring as a result of arguable generalisations being made regarding his poetry. The study will investigate why these generalisations arose (and persist) by considering its relationship with other poetry and movements of the period. De la Mare chose not to follow the route chartered by Leavis, Eliot and the New Critics and has suffered in academic circles ever since. As we will see below, the seeds of his critical neglect were sewn and eagerly watered here.
The second point to emerge is that the positive qualities of his poetry have been obscured following his relegation to the status of minor poet. To a certain extent, the Modernist movement has had the effect of casting a shadow over other notable achievements of the time. Because of this, Chapter Three will seek an illumination by reconsidering a selection of de la Mare's poetry. It will undermine the suggestion that the vast majority of his poetry escapes reality by creating a dream world, and will argue that the accusations that are most frequently levelled at his poetry by critics are, to a certain extent, unjustified. In order to do this, the discussion will offer the view that critics overstate the dichotomy between his work and that of the Modernists, which will be supported by reassessing his romanticism and looking at the influence of symbolism in his work. It will be suggested that de la Mare, together with 'modern' poets such as Yeats and Eliot, was influenced by the French Symbolist Movement of the nineteenth century. This influence, which results from his "fascination with the unconscious" and irrational mind, will be exemplified by considering his employment of symbols (particually those associated with dreams) in order to highlight the allusive and suggestive nature of his poetry.
Finally, by discussing the ironic nature that some of his work exhibits, it shall be argued that de la Mare's use of a romanticism is often a qualified one in which different views are juxtaposed but none necessarily made concrete. This will further support the proposal that, along with Modernists poets, de la Mare did indeed face up to the complexities of (a) reality by displaying self-reflexive qualities. Largely due to a lack of significant development in his poetry (a poem written in 1906 could easily be mistaken for one written forty years later), this study will not propose that de la Mare is either an archetypal Modernist poet or a major poet. However, it will be maintained that it is wrong to for him to be held in opposition to the Modernists and dismissed as merely a poet of escape.
Setting a Context : Georgians and Modernism
To discuss de la Mare's poetry adequately, we must first consider the period in which he was writing. It is important that a picture is sketched of the major developments of the period in order to construct a context in which to view his poetry. This will help to unravel and define further the main argument of this study and offer reasons as to why his work is largely ignored today. Although this discussion will focus primarily upon the literary context, it shall inevitably touch upon the historical and cultural factors that underlie and drive such developments. Let us start, then, by considering some of these.
Walter de la Mare was born in 1873 and died in 1956. His first collection of poems that was aimed, primarily, at an adult audience was published in 1906 (Poems), whilst his final collection was not published until 1953 (O Lovely England and Other Poems), at the age of 80. Consequently, de la Mare's poetic was formed (and, to a large extent, set in stone) during a time of extensive ideological and cultural change. During the Edwardian period, middle and upper class society, like the Victorians before them, were preoccupied with the quest for stability and order, viewing themselves as rational beings in a rational universe. However, this Edwardian 'craving for fixities' faced a number of challenges: challenges that were only in their infancy in the mid to late Victorian period. Along with Darwinian theories suggesting that English Protestant middle class economic hegemony had not been ordained by God, the rising working classes were threatening to fulfil their Marxist destiny by removing both the middle and upper classes from this position of hegemony. In addition to this, Freudian theory proposed that the pursuit of fixity was a problem of the mind and not simply of the universe.
This feared fragmentation of both society and mind appeared, to many contemporaries, to have materialised during the First World War. The inexorable onward march of progress, the march of civilised rational man, had floundered on the battlefields of the Somme and Passchendaele. They felt that some irrepairable fissure had taken place between (what now appeared to be) the pre-war certainties of the Edwardian period and a post-war world evidently bereft of familiar reference points. Many contemporaries considered that the "future is dark and violent and the past is a green and pleasant land: the turning point [was] the Great War." Consequently, it seemed that a new set of ideals was required to confront this different - modern - world. Amongst those having to formulate these new ideals were, of course, poets.
Accordingly, we must attend to the ways in which the poets who were writing at a time of such apparent vast and irrerversable change responded to the events that were unfolding around them. Unfortunately, this will lead to an over-simplification of the poetry that was being written in the period, with approximations and generalisations inevitably made. Nevertheless, it is useful that we regard the major "groups, movements and tendencies"  in the poetry of the early twentieth century because it will help us to explore some of the reasons why de la Mare is frequently passed over by critics today.
In doing so, we are able to highlight two movements in which poetry of different 'tendencies' is seen to belong too. On the one hand were the Georgians who, it is argued, retreated from the Modern to the pastoral and to an idealised vision of England, whilst drawing strongly from the Romantic tradition that runs from Wordsworth and the Romantics through the poetry of Tennyson and Swinburne. On the other, poets such as Eliot retreated further back from any literary tradition that underwrote contemporary poetry towards Classicism - to the source - in order to reconstitute their poetic. The focus in this chapter will be on these two movements because "the main drama between 1918 and 1928 in the history of English poetry was the clash between Modernist and Traditional modes".  Moreover, because de la Mare is frequently regarded (and dismissed) as a Georgian poet, of lacking Modernist characteristics, it is crucial that we look at some of the achievements, accusations and assumptions that are made towards the movements that his poetry is associated - and disassociated - with. This will enable us to address two misconceptions that have frequently been made in academic circles regarding the Georgian movement itself, and also their relationship with the Modernist movement.
It can be argued that prior to the rise of either of these multifarious poetic ideals, the nature of poetry was a cautious one:
In general, the conservatism that prevailed in the first decade of the twentieth century resulted in patriotic and nationalistic issues often being addressed in the poetry of the period. Consequently, this poetry frequently possessed a morally didactic nature, in which an individual's personal response was largely excluded. The Georgians were born from this poetical climate. (The majority of poets that are often viewed as being part of this family acquired their status as 'Georgian' with the inclusion of their poetry into Edward Marsh's Georgian Poetry anthologies, which ran to five volumes from 1912 to 1922.) Although no set guidelines were ever laid out as to what Georgian poetry should or should not seek to achieve (unlike Pounds Imagism, for example), there was a general reaction amongst them against the didactic nature of the major Victorian poets. Moreover, they also shared a mutual dislike of the nationalistic and patriotic verse of Edwardian's such as Kipling, Newbolt and Chesterton. In both cases, the Georgian poets disliked and sought avoid the excesses in diction and rhetoric of such verse, and the subsequent relegation of the individual that occurred within it.
"The excesses of the Aesthetic movement of the 1890s, and the absence of any poets of the stature
of the great Victorians, had led to a poetical climate characterised by both political and artistic
Consequently, the Georgians shared the desire for reintroducing the individual and depicting a personal response in their poetry. To do this, they commonly evoked the rural landscape rather than looking towards the city for inspiration because their beliefs were firmly entrenched in the traditional Romantic concept that individual subject (and his or her poetry) is inextricably linked with the natural world. Common to the 'big six' Romantic poets, they shared the belief that an improved world "could be attained not in the afterlife, but in the real, material world that they inhabited". Although not as innovative or explicit as the major romantic writes, they were, arguably, equally committed in their poetry to their forebear's ideals. Thus in line with this more personal and romantic mode of poetry, poets in the Georgian mould favoured the use of a more simplistic and subtle language rather than the didactic and aggressive one that was employed by many of their predecessors and contemporaries. Walter encapsulates their (general) poetic philosophy eloquently when he states, "they deliberately avoided the roads their fathers had built and instead chose to follow the lead set a century earlier by Wordsworth".
However, when the considering the Georgians as a movement or a poetic ideal, two important distinctions need to be made. Firstly, there were essentially two movements, with the second being different and, arguably, inferior to the first. Walter draws this distinction by referring to Georgians and Neo-Georgians. In practical terms, this distinction can be reasonably achieved with the separation of Georgian Poetry I & II from volumes III & IV. It has been suggested that the poetry in the first two volumes is, generally, of a higher quality than that which appeared in the subsequent volumes, albeit with a few notable exceptions (de la Mare for instance). From the innovative, the poetry became an imitation of the work in previous volumes in that it has been accused of employing a diluted romanticism, with any expression of a "personal and profound emotional experience" absent from their compositions.
Although this evaluation is open to question, it is nevertheless true that the reputation of the Georgians has been negatively impacted in critical circles because of its association with the Neo-Georgians. This is because these two movements are frequently placed under the umbrella term of Georgianism, with the view that the same quality of work was being produced throughout. Consequently, because the Neo-Georgians are often viewed - rightly or wrongly - as largely fulfilling "the negative expectations associated with the Georgian movement, […] they have regrettably come to represent Georgianism for most critics". Clearly, a result of regarding the Georgians and the Neo-Georgians together is that the movement as a whole is frequently discredited, with poets such as de la Mare, whose poetry was included in all five volumes, suffering.
The second distinction to be made is perhaps a more disregarded and fundamental one. This is that the term 'Georgian' is a loose one for it does not represent an easily definable mode or type of poetry. Indeed, to a certain extent poets that are frequently viewed as being synonymous with the Georgian movement are poetically diverse. In fact, Bloom goes as far as to propose that Georgianism should not be seen as a movement at all. Instead, he believes that it "describes another current in the modern movement sometimes parallel to and sometimes intermixed with Imagism, Vorticism and Futurism", all of which represent movements closely linked with the Modernism. Hence, it would be naïve to propose that those associated with the rise of the Modernist movement disliked all poetry that was included in the Georgian anthologies. Equally, it would be naive to suggest that all contributors to Marsh's volumes disliked poetry in the vein of Newbolt.
However, the heterogeneous poetic ideal of the Georgians was eclipsed, or certainly outshone, with the rise of Modernism. In any critical evaluation of early twentieth century poetry, it is the doctrine of the Modernists that dominates. Driven by Yeats, Eliot, Joyce and Lawrence, who were the foremost modern writers during the First World War and after, the Modernist movement represented "various ways of stamping upon literature the impress of contemporary life". As has been suggested above, the impress of contemporary life that they were faced with was arguably a deepening one. Amongst other strains was the weight carried by the theories of Darwin, Marx and Freud, not to mention growing capitalism and rapid industrialisation and the force of the First World War. Such factors contributed to society's increasing subjection to hollowness or incongruity. As a consequence of the changing language and images that society was witness to (and of course part of), "traditional conceptions of time and space [became] disordered, and [crucially] the connections to what had been living traditions - especially the Romantic Tradition - [were] denied".
For this reason, Eliot advanced the view was that "Romanticism was immature"  and called for a usable, adult tradition that could accommodate contemporary life and it shifting values. Essentially, the belief was that "the stuff of life is squeezed out as experience is packaged in literary merchandise". In other words, the form, diction and language of existing poetry was a disabling medium for the experience of 'modern' life. For Eliot and the early Modernists, the questioning of poetic conventions meant a rejection, not just of Victorian, Edwardian and Georgian poetry per se, but also of the Romantic tradition that had under-pinned English poetry throughout this period. Instead, he called for a return to the source, which manifested itself in the New Classicism. Consequently, poets such as Pound and Eliot desired clarity, sharpness and sparseness in their work. Accordingly, there was a move "away from the messiness and confusion of natural things" that they saw as characterising and blighting previous poetry towards a more self-reflexive, harder and objective mode of poetry. Although not applicable to all Modernist poets, a significant result of this shift was the employment of irony and, with the use of a more precise diction, the breaking down of traditional forms, metre and versification.
One of the fundamental implications of stamping literature with (external) reality was the rejection of the "conception of a crude, undifferentiated, infinite all", which had underpinned the hegemonic English literary tradition. Central to this argument was the belief that the Self was essentially autonomous and could not be fully known. In contrast to the romantic notion of the unique Self, it was viewed as unoriginal because ultimately it was embedded in an elaborate cultural tradition. For that reason, what we believe to be the self is simply a product of that tradition. Of course, inherent in this argument was that poetry itself, as with all art, was simply a product of culture: a poem could not be either original or unique. Clearly, this had dire consequences for poetry that was seen to be subjective and so to any notion of romantic individualism. In short, the Modernists felt that the poetic that was being employed by poets such as the Georgians was inadequate for transcribing modern experience (or reality).
Modernism's vocal rejection of what had gone before made a huge impact on English poetry. Ultimately, however, this impact went deeper than the development of a new poetic ideal for it also had a powerful influence on the subsequent development of English Literature as an object (subject) of study. In order for literary studies to be taken seriously as an academic subject in the years following the First World War, critics argued that it needed to become a more scientific, rigorous and impersonal discipline. Consequently, this study needed a foundation, and in Eliot's essay 'Tradition and the Individual Talent' (and, more generally, Modernist poetry) they found the fundamentals characteristics of it. As Bloom notes, "this aesthetic base was predicted on the idea of impersonality and of art as an cultural artefact". Thus extrapolated from Eliot's aesthetic (Modernistic) base, critics such as Leavis, Empson and Richards formulated theories on the direction that they believed poetry and criticism should travelling. These men were hugely influential in their respective writings, with Richard's Principles of Literary Criticism (1924) and Practical Criticism (1929) becoming regulation texts for students in their study of English Literature. This formation of a critical orthodoxy was given further impetus during the 1930s and 1940s courtesy of critics such as Tate, Brooks Warren and Ransom.
Although individually diverse in their critical aims, these 'New Critics' did share a general desire for a criticism free "from the impressionism and emotionalism of the amateur tradition and the intentionalism of literary-historical scholarship". Essentially, they proposed a fresh way of studying literature in which a poem should be regarded as a complex and autonomous entity that must be closely read if a full understanding of it is to be achieved. In this approach, contextual information was largely relegated in favour of a more focussed and clinical view of the workings of the text. A result of this academic development of English Literature was that certain poetry was viewed as unsuitable for critical investigation. Consequently, by the early 1930s "a canonical list of truly modern poets had been draw up [and that] only the poet that had avoided or overcome […] the debilitating effects of late Victorian romanticism could be considered for inclusion".
Therefore, the development and dominance of this functionalist approach in the study of Literature meant that to be regarded as a serious poet was becoming increasingly difficult if you were not writing with the above aesthetic in mind. In short, it clearly favoured the hard, objective and self-reflexive nature that characterised the Modernists poetic because, in the New Critics view, it was better suited their critical approach. Accordingly, it was argued that Modernist poetry provided a solid textual platform for the students (and critics) of literature to work from. To assess this impact in practical terms, all we to need do is to consider the poetry studied at our Universities today. Whilst Brooke and Graves may make an appearance (although most probably because of their war poetry), the likes of Houseman, Masefield and de la Mare remain inconspicuous in their absence. Although this critical orthodoxy has been challenged in academic circles during the past twenty or thirty years, it is still reasonable to propose those poets that primarily display Modernist tendencies (Eliot, Yeats and Pound) dominant.
Although this is a gross simplification of the Modernist ethic and its subsequent ramifications in the sphere of English Literary criticism, it does serve to highlight the departure that its protagonists were attempting to make from the type of poetry that was dominant at the time. It also serves highlights a theme common to both the Modernists and the Georgians, which is simply that they were both reacting against the literature that had preceded them: both movements were attempting to reject their literary inheritance, albeit to different extents. Whilst the Edwardians and the Victorians bore the brunt of the Georgian reaction, the Georgians felt the initial blast of the Modernists. As a consequence, Georgian poets were subject to damning accusations being made towards their work, with few distinctions made between those regarded as Georgian. They were accused of being self-indulgent, of turning away from reality, and not facing up to the indeterminate and fragmentary nature of it. Critics who believed their poetry to be feeble, romantic and thus unsuitable for firm and objective critical analyses compounded these accusations. In this context, the Georgians, and the tradition in which they were writing, were inevitably going to suffer.
So, with the main aims of this study in mind, this chapter has sought to do two related things. Firstly, it has suggested that the Georgians should not be considered as a distinct movement. By generalising and not drawing distinctions between different types of poetry denies a proper appreciation of the poets that still have something to critically offer us. It is wrong to suggest that all Georgian poetry is bad or good, and so poets associated with it should not be dismissed because they are Georgian or considered Georgian. Secondly, the Georgians and the Modernists are often regarded to have held widely disparate poetic ideals and, as the above discussion demonstrates, to a significant extent this is true. However, it is reasonable to suggest that the disparities between them were initially overstated and have subsequently been compounded. It should be remembered that literary history is ripe with evidence of poets and critics each seeking to 'make it new' for their generation. They have to create their own space in which to operate. This often means denying or rejecting what has preceded them, even though the gap between their respective work may not be as vast as they would like or profess it to be. Accordingly, we must be aware that delineating movements and drawing distinctions between them should be done, and accepted with caution, not only with regards to this discussion but with others as well. There is an ever-present danger when looking towards poetry to regard it as being part of one movement or another and pigeonholing it. As a consequence, the influences movements shared and the similarities between them are played down or overlooked by critics, which has a subsequent effect in that individual poets who display qualities akin - and separate - to the delineated catergories are often neglected. As we shall see below, Walter de la Mare is a case that proves this point.
Romanticism in the Poetry of Walter De La Mare: Themes, Inspirations and the Problem of Tradition
Sketching a general literary context as we have done provides us with a platform form which to view the poetry of Walter de la Mare. However, this chapter is not seeking to place his work in this context because this is not achievable without so many qualifications as to make it a pointless exercise. Furthermore, with the aims of this study in mind, doing this would not be desirable, for it as a result of being placed that has contributed towards pigeonholing and thus his position of relative obscurity. In contrast, the contextual platform will simply enable us to explore his poetry in relation to the movements that are outlined above.
In a rare essay on the poetry of de la Mare, John Press offers a valuable insight - and inroad - for the exploration of the relation de la Mare's poetry has in a wider context of English poetry. It is worthwhile quoting at length because it highlights some of the issues that this chapter is addressing:
"For many years past Walter de la Mare has occupied a curious position in the story of Twentieth Century English poetry. […] The tributes paid to his artistry over a period of fifty years by such diverse writers as Ford Madox Brown, Pound, Middleton Murry and W.H. Auden are a proof that he was admired by 'modern' poets and critics. Yet from the 1930s onwards he was ignored, or uneasily dismissed, by most of the influential younger men who formed the public taste in poetry".
This was written in 1970. It was is one of only six articles (no books) exclusively
concerned with de la Mare's poetry that has been written since 1969. His poetry
has occupied, and to a large extent still occupies, a 'curious position'. However,
it is possible to shed some light on this conundrum with the consideration of
his relation to the Georgian and the Modernists movements. To do this, we must
begin by assessing the 'stuff' of his poetry by considering the general themes
that run through it. Only then will we be able to adequately explore his work
in the context of others.
As briefly mentioned in Chapter One, critics have closely associated the poetry of Walter de la Mare with the Georgian movement because his work exhibits many of the qualities that the early Georgians are seen to possess. For example, his poetry represented a definite reaction against the didacticism of Victorian and Edwardian verse (although it is open to debate as to whether it was a conscious one), with much greater emphasis placed upon personal response and, importantly, the imagination. For de la Mare, there was a desire (or a need) to place the individual at the centre of his art. This, in addition to the significance that the natural world held for him in this reassertion, clearly points to the influences that lay behind it:
They haunt me - her lutes and her forests;
No beauty on earth I see
But shadowed with that dream recalls
Her loveliness to me
These influences derive from the writings of the Romantic Poets a hundred years before and are central to the vast majority of his poetry. Perkins notes that de la Mare shared the Romantic's belief
"that nature may be a veil over some further reality, which perhaps, the imagination intuits; [and so] he returned for support to the Romantics protest on behalf of imaginative insight and wholeness as opposed to scientific reason".
That this returning proved to be fundamental to de la Mare is wholly understandable if you accept that his "dominant impulse was the quest for another, richer self and another, essential reality":
For de la Mare, inextricably linked with the idea that Nature and Imagination could provide a means of achieving access to 'this vanished kingdom' (one that is not bound by the actualities of the physical world), was the vision that only childhood affords. Children, in his Romantic tinged eyes, embody innocence and simplicity, for they are "linked with the moral and beneficent properties of nature". To him, they represent the true essence of the Self. Because he believed that childhood was the perfect state, there is a yearning for it throughout his poetry. He felt that once childhood was left behind, we were also leaving behind the ability to access another reality. Effectively, we become exiles:
'In the peace of our hearts we learn beyond the shadow of doubting
That our dream of this vanished kingdom lies sleeping within us'
'Nor could be any stealth I entry win
Into that paradisal scene again -
Fruit so much sweeter to a childish love
Than any knowledge I had vestige of.'
Amongst the aforementioned romantic poets, Coleridge was particularly influential in de la Mare's quest for (re) discovering this other, or rather this lost, 'paradisal scene'. This is because Coleridge shared his high regard for the visionary power that children possess, and the importance of it in adult life (in which 'knowledge' is of no help): "To carry on the feelings of childhood into the powers of manhood […] this is the character and privilege of genius, and one of the marks which distinguish genius from talent".
The feelings Coleridge is referring to is the power that enables children access to this other reality, but it is one that is forced into submission as we mature. Although this reality remains in all of us, it has been banished by our conscious existence to dwell only in the unconscious. For this reason, it is not possible throughout the majority of our (adult) lives to be reconciled with this primary experience. Thus because de la Mare valued childhood vision over an external reality associated with mature experience, he believed that it was crucial to try and reclaim the power of this vision. To be able to look through childhood eyes in the context of mature experience and its actualities would offer the poet a source of visionary power and a possibility of reclaiming another reality: it could not be achieved merely by 'stealth'. Only then could the whole Self be known. This is why the majority of his poetry "is either the recreation of experience through the eyes of childhood […] or the investigation of how such eyes work." This high regard is exemplified in 'To My Mother':
Thou art the child, and I - how steeped in age!
A blotted page
From that clear, little book life's taken away 
Consequently, it is reasonable to propose that de la Mare's evocation of nature is one that is dominated with an attempt to re-create an impression that was formed in childhood. For this reason, his observations are not as naturalistic as, for instance, the observations of poets such as Hardy or Hudson. This lack of descriptive detail in such evocations is simply because de la Mare is not concerned with the object per se, but rather with the initial impression that it makes on the individual. In this, his regarding of nature is more closely allied to that of Keats, for it is a perception that is imbued with a sense of yearning.
It is also true that for de la Mare, nature acted as a point of direction and an enticement. It was not "the context of daily life but an acute contrast to it; [it was] the object of pilgrimage, the type of paradise". Thus de la Mare's attitude to Nature was akin to Blake's in that it was the essence of vision. He felt inextricibly bound up with the natural world and explores why it held such a vital meaning for him. Accordingly, he had little choice but to evoke it in order to express his longing for a reality other than the physical one. This is closely linked to the view shared by the majority of the Romantic poets, in which landscape and the natural world are seen for the way they are able "to express some of the elusive truths and perceptions of the mind":
'Not of its fish, but of the stream;
Whose gliding waters then reflect
Serener skies, in retrospect,
And flowers, ev'n fairer to the eye
Than those of actuality'.
Because de la Mare regarded Nature to part of his 'self' - and his 'self' part of Nature - so the impressions that the natural world made was on him was crucial for a deeper understanding. And because he felt the most powerful vision was a childlike one, he believed that the initial impressions of Nature were the purest and least unaffected, and so the ones of most value. In the above poem, the 'stream', which can be seen to represent the unconscious, enables de la Mare to convey the initial impression it had on the child and the importance of this impression on the adult. In order to discover truths akin to those that are found in childhood, there is an intermingling of nature and imagination in the reflection. Consequently, both of these intertwined factors contribute greatly to the fostering of his vision because both offer the hope of transcendence from one reality to another. In this, de la Mare was once again writing in the vein of the great romantics by "engaging with the great questions raised by the self and the world"; who am I? ; How did I come to be as I am? ; What am I here for? : What becomes of me when I die? He shares with them the constant searching for ultimate truths concerning our existence.
This is why the imagination was central to de la Mare in the creation of his poetry: in his view, it is only the imagination that can offer any hope of a return from exile, to his essential reality. For him, it is inextricably linked with the unconscious, which in turn is allied to childhood and participation in Nature. Accordingly, the imagination is seen "as a power which both creates and reveals, or rather reveals through creating" essential truths concerning the Self's existence. Clearly, then, the value placed upon the imagination by de la Mare meant that he regarded all aspects of existence, especially those that cannot be fully understood in the context of external reality, to be of fundamental importance to his life. Again, this meant that anything connected with the unconscious, such as dreams, was regarded with utmost significance:
'What can a tired heart say,
Which the wise of the world made dumb?
Save to the lonely dreams of a child,
'Return again, come!''
Here, de la Mare draws a distinction between what he believes to be two separate kinds of imagination, when he states that "the one knows that beauty is truth, the other reveals that truth is beauty". Essentially, the distinction he draws is between the visionary imagination and the intellectual imagination. Whereas the visionary imagination is intuitive, inductive and childlike, the intellectual imagination is logical, deductive  and a product of mature experience. Once again, de la Mare is influenced by Coleridge because, essentially, he marks out the same difference (although Coleridge's is defined more in the terms of imagination and reason). Still, whichever way the imaginative cake is cut, it is safe to say that in his poetry de la Mare preferred the taste of intuitive and inductive imagination over a hard piece of logical and deductive reason.
As with the themes he deals in, the way de la Mare expresses his subject matter is also firmly rooted in the Romantic tradition. The language he uses, and the forms in which he applies it, are distinctly romantic in style. There are many echoes of the diction that was employed in the Lyrical Ballads, and many examples of romantic images throughout his poetry:
'But blossoms to berries do come,
All hanging on stalks light and slender,
And one long summer's day charmed that lady away,
With vows sweet and merry and tender;
A lover with voice low and tender.
('The Three Cherry Trees')
Of all the Romantics, his regard for the way in which language should be employed was closest to Blake. Both felt that language had an esoteric quality. For them, "words could evoke, resonate, rouse memories (personal and super-personal); they could initiate men directly to truth far too high for discursive logic even to reach, far less grasp." If deeper truths of the kind de la Mare searched for throughout his poetry were ever going to be discovered, then it was clear to him that every method that may be of use would have to be utilised. This is why diction, and particular words, was so important in his style of composition. It is a style that is produced from the considered crafting of versification, with painstaking attention paid to all aspects of it. The desired overall effect of this was the creation of a certain mood. His use of "pace, pause, slight metrical variation and echoing or partially echoing vowels and consonants" enables him to sustain a poems mood. Unsurprisingly, it is a mood frequently associated with childhood:
Words may create rare images
Within their narrow bound;
'Twas speechless childhood brought me these,
As music may, in sound.
('The Burning Glass')
This explains why critics write of the resemblance that his poetry has to music, and clearly, it is not an accidental one. De la Mare was fully aware of the way in which music, like the sense of smell, has an indescribable power to evoke and rouse a lost, perhaps forgotten, reality.
It is true to say, then, that if one tradition affected de la Mare more than any other, it was the Romantic one. It can be seen that Romantic Theory, which, essentially, unites nature and thought (the subject with the object) in order to return poetry not to imitation but to an essence of truth, was the fundamental influence throughout his work. De la Mare sought to encounter, through the power of the imagination and its deep connection with childhood and nature, the sublime that could offer him a vision of a transcendent realm. In common with the writings of Blake, de la Mare's poetry "envisioned that transcendent realm as a reality."
So, in the context of the main aims of this study, we have achieved two interrelated things from this brief exploration. Firstly, this discussion of subject matter, themes, form and diction aids our understanding of some of the reasons that lie behind his status as a minor poet: at first glance, his poetry shows few signs that it is challenging the hegemonic literary orthodoxy. Secondly, it helps us to better explore his poetry in the context of the Georgians and the Modernists, and offers us a better appreciation of his subsequent critical neglect. Thus, if we now look back towards the Georgian movement and regard the relation de la Mare's poetry has to it, we see a confused state of affairs. It is clear from the above discussion that de la Mare exhibits many of the qualities of the mutifarious Georgians, not least their desire to reinstate the individual as central to their poetry. In line with the Georgians, this reassertion meant that a less didactic and aggressive language was employed in his poetry, whilst any great themes were generally avoided. Consequently, de la Mare looked towards the natural world was for inspiration rather than the city and the increasingly complex society that was associated with it. However, even though de la Mare was included in all five Georgian volumes, it is open to debate as to whether he can be regarded as a Georgian. Like the Georgians, he certainly wrote in a traditionally poetical manner, both in form and, essentially, in subject matter. However, this does not - or should not - qualify him as an 'archetypal' Georgian poet: this is because of the nature of his individualistic view of experience:
"De la Mare made something unique out of Georgian simplicity of glance, gentleness of pressure, and quietness of voice. The world he fixed in his gaze at once veiled and half-disclosed a realm beyond sense and time. In de la Mare's poetry the meaning and the reality of things lie off-centre, off-stage".
In many respects, then, the differences between de la Mare and the Georgians
lie in the angle of his gaze: dealing with "states of perception out of the
normal" effectively separates him from them. Although he employs certain
techniques of expression in common with the Georgians, de la Mare is doing so
for different ends. He stands alone from the majority of the Georgians essentially
because his vision would not allow him to simply observe the natural world and
inextricably link his self with it: he was more aware of the inherent difficulties
in doing this. Consequently, as we shall see below, de la Mare's use of romanticism
was not an unquestioned one. Arguably, therefore, de la Mare was seeking deeper
and more ambiguous aspects of the self than the Georgian poets in general, whilst
being more aware of the problems involved in achieving them.
Hence, viewing de la Mare work in the context of the Georgians only becomes clearer with the knowledge that the term Georgian is a loaded one. For critics, it represents a tool to dismiss the poet. The dictum "if it is good it cannot be Georgian; if it is Georgian, it must, ipso facto, be feeble" is one that has led to poets being lumped in with the Georgians in order to dismiss them, or separated from them so as to be regarded more highly. This is often why critics play down links that 'serious' poets such as Lawrence, Owen and Gurney have with the Georgian movement, whilst poets who do not fit with the poetical ideal are rejected for being Georgian. As Rogers suggests "those who do not like the Georgians would doubtless maintain that Mr de la Mare was not ever one of them". Likewise, those who do not like the poetry of de la Mare would doubtless maintain that he was. Rogers encasptulates the difficulty succinctly when he states that "it was possible to be a de la Mare and a Georgian poet", which is why his relationship with Georgism can be viewed to be an ambiguous one.
Arguably, more important is the relation of his poetry to that of the Modernists. Consider Humle's Romanticism and Classicism, an essay that greatly influenced the main participants, especially Pound. It "calls for a new poetry, 'cheerful, dry and sophisticated', a poetry to be distinguished by 'accurate, precise and definite descriptions and having nothing to do with 'infinity, mystery or with the emotions'". For certain protagonists of the 'Modern movement', de la Mare's poetry did not sit approvingly into this context, especially the aspects Hulme felt that poetry should be avoiding. To them, de la Mare was embracing all three at a time when he should have been turning his back to them. Furthermore, because his style remained a largely conservative one, his perceived inadequacy was compounded with the failure to offer any new challenges to form.
As Press suggested at the beginning of this chapter, the result was that de la Mare was not marked off as a modern poet by the influential critics of the time. Consequently, although he remained popular with the wider reading public, to serious critics of poetry he gradually began to be regarded as a poet who failed to confront not the incongruities of modern life. To exemplify the general attitude that serious critics had towards de la Mare's poetry further, consider one of the few essays that did concern itself with his work:
"His poetry, then, is by admission a poetry of withdrawal, cultivating a special poetical 'reality' :his world of dreams, nourished on memories of childhood, is for him the intrinsically poetical […] He has formed habits that make impossible such a frank recognition of the human plight as he seems to offer".
This passage is an extract from Leavis' 1932 evaluation of the then present
climate of English poetry, New Bearings in English Poetry. Although in
other sections of the essay he reconginises some of the qualities of de la Mare's
poetry (thus does not dismiss it entirely) it is nevertheless clear that poetry
such as his falls short of what he perceives to be required from a modern poet.
As well as failing to meet the criteria set out by Hulme, it was seen to be
void of the ambiguity and irony that serious and modern poetry should display.
Consequently, Leavis believed that what was needed was "the invention of new
techniques [because] the established habits form a kind of atmosphere from which
it is supremely difficult to escape". Thus for Leavis, de la Mare has a
fatal flaw: he lacks a modern sensibility in that he does not face up to society
and its fragmenting actualities squarely and purposely in the eye. Consequently,
his poetry is viewed as inadequate because it is unable to disinherit, or at
least challenge, the 'established habits' of the tradition in which it is written
in. Because the poets associated with the Modernist movements had attempted
to take up the challenge in order to escape from the confines of tradition,
the major implication for de la Mare was that he gradually began to be viewed
as a romantic escapist. He was criticised for writing in a tradition that was
no longer seen as usable for the depiction or interpretation of the Modern.
To the minds of the intellectual school of poetry, this meant that he could
not - or would not - face up to the complexities and demands of contemporary
life. Consequently, although admired by the people who 'formed the public taste
in poetry', his poetry was inevitably regarded by them as being minor. As we
have seen, this status was compounded with his affiliation with the (neo) Georgians.
It is reasonable to suggest, then, that de la Mare could not escape the dramatic impact the Modernism had on English poetry. At a time when freer versification and a more fragmented form came to prominence in order to accommodate a changing world, de la Mare's use of language, form and subject matter synonymous with a unusable and immature romantic tradition sounded his critical death-knell. As a result, de la Mare was "dismissed for lacking the capacity for ironical contemplation, for preserving an inflexible poetical tone, and generally being incapable of handling mature experience." Accordingly, critics began to pay less and less attention to a poet such as de la Mare who is seemingly unaffected - in both his subject matter and his poetic form - by the modern, especially as he was writing at a time of huge historical, cultural and literary development.
In addition to this, he had the misfortune "that his poetic career coincided with the growth of a critical orthodoxy […] that came to dominate the study of poetry in schools and universities." Thus his poetry was disfavoured in academic circles because it did not exhibit the qualities that modern poetry should exhibit. De la Mare's poetry was seen to lack hard objectivity, and would thus not reward a functionalist study of it. Furthermore, his poetry continues to be disfavoured in academic circles because it does not exhibit the qualities that poetry of that time should exhibit.
In other words, not being regarded as part of the Modern movement has meant that his poetry has been viewed as escapist whimsy (which is an assessment not unlike the accusations made at the Georgians as a whole) or simply overlooked. Hence, from the viewpoint we have at the end of the twentieth century, de la Mare is seen much like he was at the time of Leavis' New Bearings. His poetry is viewed as belonging to an outdated tradition, displaying archaic diction and form at a time when the Modernists were rejecting them to create new poetical ideals. This, albeit rather crudely, explains why a poem such as Eliot's The Wasteland, which attempts to reflect the modern experience, has received as much (if not more) critical attention than all of de la Mare's poetry added together.
Simply an Escape
or a 'Modern' Inheritance? : A Reconsideration of De La Mare's Romanticism.
The discussion has thus far argued that de la Mare's poetry has an ambiguous relationship with the Georgian movement. But more importantly for this study, the discussion has proposed that his work is largely seen by critics not to have adopted the central tenants of the Modernists doctrine. Consequently, it is reasonable to suggest that de la Mare's escape from certain aspects of life, and his Romantic expression of this supposed escape, are the major reasons for the decline in critical attention in his poetry. However, this chapter will argue that a re-evaluation is needed of de la Mare. Although the accusations that he was the last of the Romantics and an escapist have truth in them, it is often overlooked to the extent in which de la Mare was a self-conscious Romantic, who did not accept its conventions without qualifications. Moreover, in some respects, his poetry can be seen to exhibit traits more readily associated with Modernist movement; namely symbolism, irony and an awareness of the limitations of language. As a result, it shall be argued that it is too simplistic to dismiss de la Mare as a romantic escapist writing at a time when serious poets were trying to come to terms with the modern.
In general, the poetry of de la Mare does not concern itself with external things. This does not mean, however, that his poetry offers an escape from the actuality of life. As Whistler states, "poetry was for him the road to reality, not aside from it". He may be turning away from external actualities and the effect they have on him, but in doing so he is arguably grappling with more fundamental issues about the human condition. For example, the creation of a dream-world in his poetry is, unlike Tennyson's or the Pre-Raphaelites', not an escape or withdrawal (from everything), but rather a important communing between the conscious and unconscious self. In other words, he uses, or rather regards, his imagination as a key to a reality that co-exists with the external one:
I weep within; my thoughts are mute
With anguish for poor suffering dust;
Sweet wails the wild bird, groans the brute;
Yet softly to a honied lute
Crieth a voice that heed I must;
Beckons the hand I trust.
For de la Mare, this other reality is equally - if not more - valid than the reality we can see and touch, and so has little choice but to listen to the voice that crieth within if full possession of the self is to be attained. Because of this, it is a misconception to think that he was consciously trying to escape from modern experience at all: it was simply that chose to explore deeper, more abstract questions in his poetry. Rather than turning his back on life, de la Mare "sought truth behind the façade which some call life; his purpose is not to lull but to awaken us."Unfortunately, in the rare essays that have written by serious critics, they have largely failed to either recognise or accept this view.
Accordingly, he is frequently charged with escapism because critics have not allowed de la Mare his "special subject matter and his special perspective on experience." To compound this, a quality that critics often overlooked in their critiques of de la Mare's poetry is the influence that the nineteenth century French Symbolist Movement had on his work. De la Mare concurred with the fundamental belief of the movement's main protagonists that deeper truths and a different, better reality existed, which could be found not through the senses in the actual, but in the imagination (or the unconscious). Therefore, de la Mare was in agreement with Mallame that the Self as a subject for poetry was a perfectly valid, indeed crucial, one. Not surprisingly, then, de la Mare's quest for a deeper Self (or a 'inner life') leads him to search throughout his poetry for a 'spirit' - the 'Impossible She' - that is akin to the French symbolists Ideal of the Beautiful. The Ideal of the Beautiful for Baudelaire "gave force a purpose to his tortured and disordered soul; for Verlaine it justified the search for forbidden pleasure; for Mallarme it was all that mattered".De la Mare shared their sentiments in that the Impossible She ('For she who is gone') was also all that mattered and his constant yearning for it also gave him purpose because she represented the "self for which all men search":
Whose servant art thou? Who gave thee earth, sky and sea
For uttermost kingdom and ranging? Who bade thee to be
Bodiless, lovely; snare, and delight of the soul,
Fantasy's beacon, of thought the uttermost goal?
('The Strange Spirit')
Consequently, in line with the Symbolists poetry of Baudelaire, Verlaine and Mallarmé (and to lesser extent the Aestheticism of Rossetti and Pater), de la Mare sought a poetry of indirection and creation of mood through the oblique presentation of symbols. This approach had to be taken because, in his (and their) view, "there is much in the human consciouness for which plain statement is not inadaquete but impossible. We all know fleeting, indefinite states of mind which have no clear outline of character and can hardly be expressed at all". An example of this can be seen in 'Good-Bye':
The last of last words spoken is, Good-bye -
The last dismantled flower in the weed-grown hedge,
The last thin rumour of a feeble bell far ringing,
The last blind rat to spurn the mildewed rye.
Here, the juxtaposition of fragmentary symbolic images represents the above 'fleeting, indefinite states of mind'. As a result, there is an absence of a determined narrative and no concrete meaning or structure is offered. Instead, it simply attempts to excite a state of mind or an emotion based on the generative power of the title word 'Good-Bye'. Accordingly, the poem remains highly ambiguous throughout:
Love of its muted music breathes no sigh,
Thought in her ivory tower gropes in her spinning,
Toss on in vain the whispering trees of Eden,
Last of all words spoken is, Good-bye.
Thus, rather than using words to signify a concrete, tangible object, de la Mare uses them as symbols ('Eden', 'Ivory Tower') in hope of evoking, through association, "a reality beyond the senses": his desire is to evoke an emotion in the reader, not offer a structured message.
However, the problem for de la Mare arose from a distinction that was made by modern poets and critics between acceptable and unacceptable symbolism in which certain symbols were deemed more suitable for use than others. For example, he was criticised for displaying a symbolism that was weak and impure because it was more subjective than poets such as (later) Yeats or Eliot displayed. Indeed, Yeats criticised the Romantics for a use of symbols that are singular to their own particular personalities: their poetry lacked - in Eliot's terms - 'objective correlatives'. In this criticism, Christ believes that Yeats (and Eliot) is voicing the Modernists view that a "private and personal symbolism" should be avoided at all costs by employing 'archetypal' symbols. Again, the implication here is that de la Mare's use of symbolism was either overlooked, ignored or dismissed because it did not meet the objective criteria of more modern poets; it was just another aspect of his poetry that did not satisfy their poetic guidelines. So, even if de la Mare's symbolism was properly acknowledged, it would arguably have been swiftly dismissed because it is too personal and lacks objective correlatives. Not valuing this aspect of his poetry, or simply not recognising it, has contributed greatly to his perception as a poet of withdrawal or escape. Indeed, it has resulted in a damaging misconception of what de la Mare was prospecting in his work.
We can thus see that in his quest for glimpses of a different reality, de la Mare was unable to be open and conscious: instead he had to be more allusive and indirect in his poetry, in which "objects tended to suggested rather than named." Consequently, the symbols that were thrown up by the unconscious, especially in dreams, held the utmost significance for him because they can be viewed as evidence that a reality different from our waking one exists:
When music sounds, all that I was I am
Ere to this haunt of brooding dust I came;
While from Time's woods break into distant song
The swift-winged hours, as I hasten along.
Once again, we can see that this trancesdent realm, which is 'stilled with ecstasies', is inextricably linked with nature and childhood, all of which are co-existing within the unconscious mind. Here, sleep (the 'swift-winged hours') returns de la Mare, for a time, to his childhood Self ('all that I was I am'). Therefore, dreams represent a product of the unconscious because they are not subject to the repression that the adult, reasoning mind may employ. They are created through the free-play of our sleeping selves, without any conscious control of our own, which means that, for a short time, the shackles of mature experience are released. Consequently, the importance that dreams had for de la Mare's bears a close resemblance to the speculations of Freud and Jung for they resolved
De la Mare concurred with this view that if a deeper understanding of the self is to be achieved, then dreams are highly meaningful because they offer symbolic glimpses of the primary experience. In this respect, dreams can be closely allied not only to Coleridge's conception of the primary imagination, but also to the childlike, intuitive and inductive visionary imagination that de la Mare proposes. Hence, experiences such as dreams, which are removed from the processes of a conscious intellect, accordingly occupied a crucial role in his quest for an 'essential reality'. In any questioning of human existence, they offer crucial truths if a comprehensive and meaningful answer to be attained. By supporting the pyschoanalytic premise that "man's actions could be motivated by forces of which he knew nothing", dreams provided evidence of an inherent irrationality existing in human behaviour: an irrationality that deeply fascinated de la Mare.
"in finding highly meaningful the 'natural' symbolism that occurs in dreams. Both asserted that the sensitive analysis of dreams is our essential entrée to individuality in its completeness and depth. For both, these truths were revelatory of the inner psyche".
Clearly, this fascination has an important implication for the way in which his poetry can subsequently be interpreted, although it is an implication that has been rarely acknowledged. For example, critics have frequently suggested that the dream-like quality that affects a significant amount of his poetry is contributing to an escape from life. Here, Richards' opinion is typical of the view proposed in much serious criticism of him when he states that in his poetry, de la Mare voices "an impulse to turn away, to forget, to seek shelter in the warmth of his own familiar thicket of dream, not to stay out in the wind." Arguably however, the way de la Mare's employs and explores the 'thicket of dream' challenges this frequent accusation. For him, the evocation of dreams is not so much a withdrawal from reality as an exploration of a different reality. In addition to this, critics have also failed to recognise his qualified use and acceptance of romanticism, which has negatively impacted his reputation further. In Chapter Two, the point was made that de la Mare preferred the taste of intuitive and inductive imagination than to a hard piece of logical and deductive reason. However, this is not to say that he always managed to swallow it, or even that he did not sometimes choke on it. Indeed, although de la Mare was inspired and essentially wrote in the strain of Romanticism that ran from the writing of Blake, Coleridge and Keats, he was sceptical of it. He wanted to believe that the Self was unique and knowable, but he was unable to be fully convinced that this was the case:
Leave this vain questioning. Is not sweet the rose?
Sings not the wild bird ere to rest he goes?
Hath not in miracle brave June returned?
Burns not her beauty as of old it burned?
O foolish one to roam
So far in thine own mind away from home!
De la Mare asked similar questions of the Self and its existence in the world that the Romantics had asked before him, but he remained unsure whether he would ever recover the answer, or even whether there was an answer to them. This is not to say that he did not look for answers throughout his poetry, but rather that he was conscious that they might not ever be found. It was representative of 'a lifelong tangle of perplexities' for de la Mare in which there was a frightening sense of knowing nothing except one thing: the mortality of the self.
Effectively, then, he was caught between the two distinct faculties of the human mind. On the one side is a desire to return to another state that is removed from the common state of mature consciousness, which manifest itself in his poetry as the crossing of the frontier between visible to invisible. This desire, which and stems from intuitive and inductive imagination, underpins the main body of his work. On the other side is the logical and deductive reason that de la Mare regarded as a product of mature experience. Despite all his endeavours, his was ultimately not able to fully suppress the scepticism that such reason inevitably entertains. For him, it was 'An endless war 'twixt contrarieties' that resulted in an overtone of disquiet pervading the vast majority of his poetry.
Consequently, "the more one studies him, the more ambiguous one finds his relation to the tradition of the great English Romantic poets." He proposes feelings, images and values characteristic of Romantic poetry, but he is unable to do so without an awareness of its limitations. This awareness is clearly displayed in 'Alone':
The abode of the nightingale is bare,
Flowered frost congeals in the gelid air,
The fox howls from his frozen lair:
Alas, my loved one is gone,
I am alone:
It is winter.
Although de la Mare begins the stanza in a characteristically Romantic manner, it soon crumbles into a more Modernistic style. He brings together two diverse poetic forms because he fully realises that it will effect a greater impact and make concrete the speaker's utter desolation. It is a desolation compounded with the line 'the abode of the nightingale is bare', which can be read as a reference to either the soul of the individual poet; or to the ideals held by the Romantic poets generally. Most likely in de la Mare's case, it is both. Whichever way it is interpreted, the implication is of self-awareness to the limitations of romanticism and its ideals.
Consequently, the awareness of literary development de la Mare portrays in Alone comes only with the benefit of being able to view a tradition with hindsight. With the Modernists ascendancy, de la Mare was viewed to be writing at the end of an outdated tradition. Whether he was or not is a debatable point, although it is true to say that occupying a (perceived) position such as this meant two things. Firstly, he was conscious that it was neither desirable, nor possible, to attempt to propose the same claims as the great Romantics did one hundred years before. Secondly, it enabled him to take advantage of Romantic literary customs with a complete knowledge and appreciation. Thus, in poems such as Alone he employed aspects of the Romantic tradition in order to exploit them, rather than because he whole-heartedly accepted its doctrine. In other words, he was an heir to the Romantic tradition who chose not to inherit it passively. In this respect, "he shows himself most a poet of the Twentieth Century in his way of using the Romantic mode, which he handles with the self-conscious knowingness that may come at the end of a tradition". He was acutely aware of the tradition in which he was writing, and although he largely followed its conventions, he did not swallow them hook, line and sinker.
In line with this argument, Perkins believes that de la Mare "notes with a disturbing insistence the ambiguities and ironies that that have been part of the Romantic tradition." If this view is accepted, then it serves to throw further doubt on a simplistic reading of his poetry being the straightforward embodiment of Romantic Ideals. If, as Perkins proposes, de la Mare is keenly aware of the ambiguities and ironies that such ideals inevitably generates, then it brings into question his own exploration of it. Arguably, such awareness precludes him from writing in this tradition without being to a certain extent ironic. Consequently, one of the ways in which his self -conscious use of literary tradition exhibits itself in his poetry is with his use of Romantic Irony. This lies in the juxtaposition between what he his expressing, and the manner in which he has chosen to express it:
Sweet sounds, begone!
Though silence brings apace
Of this homely place;
And all I love
In beauty cries to me,
'We but vain shadows
And reflections be'
De la Mare is writing in a tradition that is widely recognised for its varied attempts to reconcile the self with deeper truths in the hope that the self would be more fully known. If de la Mare then expresses doubts that such a hope is ever achievable ('We are but vain shadows/And reflections be') it suggests that his use of the Romantic tradition is an ironic one. He is fully alive to his predecessors enigmatic claims of the their visions or their hoped-for encounters with the sublime, but cannot help having doubts irrespective of his own desire for them. Further evidence of this can be found in Shadow, where the romantic echoes of Plato's 'myth of the cave' hollowly reverberate:
The loveliest thing earth hath, a shadow hath,
A dark and livelong hint of death,
Haunting it ever till its last faint breath…
Who, then, may tell
The beauty of heaven's shadowless asphodel?
It is an ambivalence that reflects the fact that "the authentic romantic ironist is as filled with enthusiasm as with scepticism." Admittedly, however, de la Mare's employment of Romantic irony is rarely explicit. To a significant extent it has to be read into the poem by the reader with the knowledge that de la Mare was not necessarily a passive inheritor of the Romantic tradition. In doing this, of course, there is the ever-present danger that a poem is interpreted as being ironic, when its intention was not to be. There is a thin divide between the two, and it is not always possible to notice it. Nevertheless, it remains valid to suggest that de la Mare does adopt an ironic tone in his work, which manifests itself in the understatement, indirection and ambiguity that pervades the vast majority of his poetry. Rather than believing that the truth is waiting somewhere in the ether to be discovered by a highly perceptive poet (or in de la Mare's case, recovered), he is continually afraid that it might not be. As a consequence, any definite truths are replaced by a prevailing uncertainty:
What dost thou surely know?
What will the truth remain,
When from the world of men thou go
To the unknown again?
Thus if nothing can be known undeniably, then "a quiet unemphatic, faintly humorous, reflective awareness of open possibilities is the only appropriate stance" for de la Mare to take. He questioned everything, without expecting to receive an answer:
Thus mused this Traveller. Was he man or Ghost?
Deranged by solitude? Or rapt away
To some unpeopled limbo of the lost -
Feint that the light of the morning would betray? . . .
The result of such a stance is that he suggests many impressions in his poetry, without necessarily vowing to any of them: de la Mare, like "modernism itself, cannot reach any conclusions." Hence, irony, like symbolism, enables de la Mare both a "means for unifying the apparent contradictions of experience [and] to assert the world's diversity": they offer him flexibility of expression.
In line with his self-conscious engagement with Romanticism, de la Mare was aware that no matter how hard a poet tries to convey a certain message in his or her poetry, the interpretation of it is likely to be different due to the deficiency of discourse. De la Mare realised that language was ultimately inadequate for depicting anything concretely, or as it really is:
Were words sole proof of happiness,
How poor and cold the little I have said!
Consequently, he foreshadows Post-structuralism's concern with language by displaying an anxiety "about the impossibility of the relationship between the world and the word, […] the knowing and the articulation:"
The lowliest weed reflects day's noon of light,
Its inmost fragrance squanders on the air;
And a small hidden brook with all the night
Mourn, beyond speech to share.
His awareness of the divide between the signifier and the signified further supports the contention that the majority of his poetry was suggestive rather than explicit: for de la Mare, "words only hint at things, not expresses them". It also provides further evidence to support the hypothesis that, along with 'modern' poets, de la Mare was conscious of the limitations that he was subject to. Thus, although such linguistic self-awareness was less explicit in his early poetry, later poems such as Words came to more overtly exhibit the (modernistic) sentiment that Eliot's displays in his poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:
It is impossible to say just what I mean ! 
We can thus conclude that for those poets and critics who forecast and shaped the poetical climate during the early part of this century, de la Mare's romanticism left him out in the cold as a poet of escape. For them, poetry which "does not express revolt against, or ironical acceptance [of all aspects of life], is an attempt to escape from, instead of recognising and facing up to 'reality'." However, the above revision has proposed that by not looking beyond - or unpicking - de la Mare's romanticism, they have failed to appreciate that de la Mare was attempting to face up to reality: it was simply that the reality he chose to confront was a different one to theirs. This should not - does not - make him a poet of escape. As Jarrell notes, "it is easy to complain that de la Mare writes about unreality; but how can anybody write about unreality."
Hence, adopting the view that he was escapist has resulted in critics overlooking certain qualities in de la Mare's poetry: qualities that are shared by serious and modern poets. Thus this chapter has demonstrated that the perceptions of the symbolists, as well as playing a significant role in the Modernist movement, also enriched the poetry of de la Mare. However, it was not readily credited because it did not meet the objective criteria that modern poets were being urged to satisfy. Nevertheless, it should be realised that the employment of symbolism - however engaged - is one aspect that is common to poets who have been frequently viewed as occupying disparate positions in literary history. Consequently, the separation between them is - however much argued - not a complete one. It would be too neat and simplistic to believe otherwise.
This is also true with regards to the use of irony. To Modernist critics and poets alike, irony was seen as a vital tool for the modern writer, for it enables him or her to display a self-reflexiveness in their work. Poets such as de la Mare, who were ostensibly writing in the Romantic tradition, were viewed by those reacting against them that they were incapable of employing such irony. They were seen to lack the modern poet's flexibility to question the conventions of a tradition's approach to subject matter or means of expression (including the limitations of language itself).
As a result, in their desire to propose a distinct break between the Modern poetic and the Romantic tradition, Leavis and Richards clearly overlooked the above qualities of de la Mare's poetry in their respective evaluations of it. There is no surprise in this because both used de la Mare's poetry as an example of what modern poets should be trying to avoid in their own work.56 To acknowledge, or even notice the use of symbolism or any nuance of self-reflexiveness in what was seen as overtly romantic poetry would be to understandably undermine their own agendas and lessen the dramatic rejection of literary inheritance that their theses demanded.
Conclusion and Epilogue
This study has discussed some of the major reasons that have contributed towards de la Mare's present status as a minor poet and his subsequent critical neglect. It has demonstrated that the acendency of Modernism and the New Critics of the intellectual school, with their championing of a dry, self-reflexive and critical poetry, resulted in de la Mare getting left behind. In their eyes, he was stuck-fast in an unsuitable -unusable - non-modern tradition, writing poetry that was not worthy of serious academic consideration. By lumping his poetry in with all that was Georgian and regarding him as a poet of escapist whimsy has meant that the new direction poetry took in the 1920's obscured de la Mare's own individual poetic achievements. As a consequence, it has suffered from being wrongly pigeonholed as being a certain type of poetry because it has detracted from qualities more readily associated with the Modern movement.
To a large extent, it continues to do so. Consequently, this study argued that classifying de la Mare's poetry is not as straightforward as it appears to have been for some critics. It has highlighted the fact that drawing distinctions between his poetry and poetry that has been - and still is - in critical favour is not as clear-cut as has been previously suggested. If, as this study has argued, de la Mare's poetry "does not really fit into any received categories", then clearly there needs to be a re-evaluation of it without any preconceived notion of what to expect. To a certain extent, I.A. Richards acknowledges this in his 1976 reconsideration in which he reflects upon his own marginalisation of de la Mare's poetry fifty years before:
"I had, in those remote days, what could too easily become a limited theory. There was so much I wanted poetry to be doing for mankind that I could forget how incomparably much more it might be doing. So I fell, I think, already into the commonest trap for critics - one I was naturally fond of pointing out to others. I undervalued some poetries - not for being poor themselves - but for not being other sorts of poetry I then thought mattered more."
The implication of Richard's statement is an obvious one; de la Mare's poetry
should be considered for what it is and not dismissed for what it fails to be:
it is worthwhile in its own right, regardless of other poetries that 'mattered
more'. More pertinent to this particular discussion is the fact that the closer
attention Richards is calling for enables the reader to uncover aspects (symbolism,
irony) that de la Mare's poetry does share with other poetry of the time. Thus,
as this study has sought to do in Chapter Three, we must take a fresh look at
de la Mare's poetry, and not in the light of previous, overarching definitions
or categorisations. Only then will a proper appreciation of all of its qualities
Hopefully, this may be about to finally happen. In 1997, "inspired by a surge of interest in Walter de la Mare's work after a conference organised by King's College, London […] critics and aficionados formed a society to honour the memory of Walter de la Mare, […] and to bring his work to a wider audience." In addition to this, the society aims to promote the study and deepen the appreciation of his works by encouraging and facilitating both research and new de la Mare publications. Since the formation of the society, there have been lectures by both critics and artists (Hoban, Bonnerot, Harvey and Adams, to name a few) on the work of Walter de la Mare. One of these, (Walter de la Mare: Life and Times, October 1998, at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature) was attended by some 300 people, of which over eighty percent were working academics. Giles de la Mare exemplified this groundswell in interest in a meeting with him in March 1999, for he believes that after years in the critical wilderness, academics and are beginning to reappraise the individualistic contribution Walter de la Mare has made to English Literature. He feels that only now is de la Mare's work emerging from the long and prejudicial shadow that was cast by Modernism and the New Critics. 
Moreover, Dr Ann Bentinck supplies evidence that De la Mare "shall no longer remain an elusive figure to criticism" with the publication of the first book dedicated exclusively to his work for over forty years. Provisionally entitled Dominant Imagery in the Work of Walter de la Mare and published in the year 2000, it proposes that de la Mare
In recognising that there is a serious need for a new critical study of his work, Bendinck believes that the "book will help to fill the enormous gap on University library shelves". Together with future lectures, the formulation of a research database (by Giles de la Mare) and the construction of the first Walter de la Mare website (by myself), Bentink's book will reinforce the society's primary aim that calls for a fuller and deeper appreciation of his work. It is hoped that my own study is, if only in a small way, a positive contribution towards achieving this goal.
"was an artist with a unique vision, a man of strange delights and sorrows, [The book will] reveal de la Mare's more complex and serious side. […] It will study de la Mare's personality and his ideas, his linguistic technique, the Georgian scene and the influence of the Symbolist Movement on his work."