‘All But Blind’, a poem written by the English poet Walter de la Mare, is image-rich and symbolic in meaning. This poem talks about the inner blindness of humans.
In this poem, Walter de la Mare presents his simplistic thoughts about the blindness of men. The apparent simplicity of the poem is a facade to portray the deeper meaning inside the text. However, ‘All But Blind’ focuses on three creatures that are blind by nature. The mole is blind. But, the bat and owl, being nocturnal animals, cannot see in daylight. For this reason, those creatures are apparently blind. Yet, they can see when they need to see for their survival. However, the question comes in the case of humans and readers have to ask this question to themselves too!
This simple poem describes three animals and their apparent blindness. Firstly, the poet talks about the mole that gropes for worms in its “chambered hole.” Secondly, there is the bat which twirls softly by, in the evening sky. Thirdly, the poet says how the barn owl blunders on its way in daylight. Lastly, the poet ironically refers to those creatures as blind and says, “So blind to someone/ I must be.”
You can read the full poem here.
This poem by Mare consists of four stanzas. Each stanza contains four lines. The lines are short and internally rhyming. Moreover, the rhyme scheme of each quatrain is ABCB and this scheme goes on throughout the text. It means the poet writes this poem using the ballad stanza form. This rhyme is also known as the “Simple 4-line” rhyme. Apart from that, the overall poem is composed in the iambic meter with a few trochaic, anapestic, and spondee variations.
Walter de la Mare uses some important literary devices in his poem, ‘All But Blind’. First of all, the title of the poem contains irony. The poet uses repetition of the phrase in the title at the beginning of each stanza for emphasizing the idea. Thereafter, Mare uses a metaphor in “chambered hole.” In the third stanza of the poem, “the burning day” contains metonymy. Here, the poet refers to the effect in place of the cause (that is the scorching daylight). This stanza also contains alliteration. The last stanza ends with an epigram.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
All but blind
The four-clawed mole.
The poem, ‘All But Blind’ begins with an assertion of the universal truth. According to the poet, humans are blind in a way or another. Humans have eyes to discern but, in reality, there are only a few who can see. Whatsoever, in the first stanza, the poet refers to a “four-clawed mole” that “gropes for worms” in “his chambered hole.” So, the mole is a symbolic representation of a certain class of men. Those who live inside their little “chambered” thoughts are like the moles. They only live for their basic needs. However, here the poet criticizes this intellectual blindness.
All but blind
Twirls softly by.
The second stanza begins similarly to the first stanza. In this stanza, Mare talks about the bat. Here, he personifies the bat as a “hooded” man. However, he says the bat “twirls soft by” “in the evening sky.” As the bat cannot see during the daytime, it comes out in the evening. Then it spreads its wings and enjoys the nocturnal freedom. However, it is important to mention here that the bat represents those who come out at night in their hoods. They avoid direct contact with others. For this reason, they softly make their way and find their sustenance.
All but blind
Blunders on her way.
Thereafter, in the third stanza of ‘All But Blind’, the poet talks about another nocturnal animal. It is a barn owl. However, this stanza is not like the previous one. Rather, Mare creates a contrast between the second and third stanzas. In the previous stanza, he referred to the bat that can easily see at night. The third stanza says just the opposite. Here, the poet says how the bat, a nocturnal animal, struggles in “the burning day.” Moreover, it also “blunders on her way.”
After reading this stanza, it seems that the poet is talking about those who fear truth and try to avoid the daylight, a symbol of truthfulness. Apart from that, readers can find the repetition of the “b” sound in this stanza. It is an example of consonance.
And blind as are
I must be.
The last stanza of the poem contains the message of the poet. Along with that, the beginning of this stanza is not like the previous ones. Here, the poet uses a simile and compares humans to those three blind animals. According to the poet, “And blind as are/ These three to me.” So, it is the poet’s thoughts. Whatsoever, in the following lines, the poet utters another truth. The poet has said that he visualizes everyone as blind. So, it is also possible that someone else sees the poet as “blind”. It is all about the conflict between appearance and reality. However, readers have to find who the real blind is.
Walter de la Mare was famous for her poems for children. Being a modern poet, he talks about modern-day problems in his poetic works. Likewise, in this poem, ‘All But Blind’, Mare focuses on a problem that exists in society. It is about the blindness of people. However, one can assume that here the poet talks about the intellectual blindness of human beings. It can also be a reference to the spiritual blindness of men. Whatsoever, this poem touches on this problem and criticizes how a person perceives a thing. However, at the end of the poem, the poet leaves the question up to the readers.
Here is a list of a few poems that similarly talk about the themes present in Walter de la Mare’s ‘All But Blind’. Readers can refer to the following poems for further details.
- The Country of the Blind by C.S. Lewis – This poem presents the contrast between the spiritually blind and those who had seen the divine light.
- Tell all the truth but tell it slant by Emily Dickinson – It’s one of the best Emily Dickinson poems and here the poet describes the power of truth.
- Mirror, Mirror by Spike Milligan – This short poem speaks about society, perception, and a girl’s strength.
- The Vision of Judgement by Lord Byron – In this poem, the poet presents how one should judge reality based on facts. It’s one of the best-known Lord Byron poems.