Walter John de la Mare was an English poet known for his imaginative romantic writing, producing a wide array of literary works, such as novels, poetry collections, and children’s books. Some of his work has been included in a number of horror collections; however, they had far more of a supernatural element than pure horror.
Early Life and Education
Walter de la Mare was born in born in Charlton, Kent, England, in April of 1873. He was one of three sons born to father James Edward de la Mare, a principal at the Bank of England, and Lucy Sophia Browning. De la Mare also had four sisters, one of whom died in infancy. He was known as ‘Jack’ as a youth, not taking on the name Walter until later in life.
As a boy, he attended St Paul’s Cathedral School, where he became a choirboy. This institution ended up marking the end of his formal education. When he left St. Paul’s, he immediately went to work for the statistics department of the London office of Standard Oil Company, the Anglo-American organization. He remained in this job for over eighteen years. It was a requirement as he had a family to support. De la Mare met and married Elfrida Ingpen, who was at the time the lead in a dramatic production he worked on. She was ten years older than him, and the couple would go on to have four children together.
Although he was deeply entrenched in his work and family life, he still found time to write. He spent a great deal of time writing poetry while working in the offices of the company. De la Mare’s first published short story appeared in the journal Sketch in 1895. It was titled “Kismet.”.
His first poetry collection ‘Songs of Childhood ‘was published in 1902. It is now considered to be a major work in his career and has been recognized as a prime example of children’s literature. The collection put him on the map of children’s literature, going on to produce a number of anthologies. The work also showed the beginnings of the “romantic imagination” for which del la Mare would come to be known. Remarkably, de la Mare actually published the collection under the pseudonym Walter Ramal.
It was followed by his first novel, Henry Brocken, two years later. His next major work was ‘Poems,’ published in 1906. At this point, he was granted a Civil List pension. This allowed him to focus exclusively on his writing.
Walter de la Mare embarked on creating a number of short stories, for which he became one of the best short story writers in English literature. Critic John H. Wills made a claim that “de la Mare is the most underrated short story writer in the English language.”
Walter de la Mare delved into the genre of fantasy, writing a number of masterpieces throughout his career. One of these is Memoirs of a Midget, written in 1921. Although an unusual tale, many critics have expressed their admiration for the work. Storm Jameson called it “the most notable achievement in prose fiction of our generation.” J.C Squire wrote, in his ‘Books Reviewed: Critical Essays on Books and Authors,’ that he could not think of a “prose book by an English poet which is a more substantial achievement.”
Walter de la Mare’s most well-known poem is arguably ‘The Listeners,’ a child’s poem which creates a sense of mystery. The poem tells the tale of a ‘lonely traveller’s call’ at a ‘lone house’ knocking on a ‘moonlit door.’
Walter de la Mare’s work gave birth to a number of famous quotes and phrases. Some of the most famous phrases in Walter de la Mare’s poetry include some from ‘The Listeners,’ “stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight,” “every word he spake fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house,” “the faint moonbeams on the dark stair, that goes down to the empty hall,” and “while his horse moved, cropping the dark turf, ‘neath the starred and leafy sky.”
Another one of his well-known poems is ‘Silver,’ in which he says, “moveless fish in the water gleam, by silver reeds in a silver stream,” and “a harvest mouse goes scampering by, with silver claws, and silver eye.”
Explore more Walter de la Mare poems.
Later Life and Death
Throughout the early 1900s, the family lived in Beckenham and Anerley with his family. It is said that de la Mare was given a pension of £100 by the government, and this allowed him to put all his energy into creating new works. From 1925 until 1939, he and his family moved to Taplow in Buckinghamshire.
Interestingly, Walter’s son Richard went on to release a number of his father’s books and works when he became the chairman of Faber & Faber, the independent publishing house.
In 1940 Elfrida was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She spent the next three years living as an invalid before her death in 1943. De la Mare lived in Twickenham for the rest of his life. In the mid-1900s, he won the Carnegie Medal from the Library Association for his volume, Collected Stories for Children.
In 1947 de la Mare had a heart attack and then a second, to which he succumbed in June 1956. His final year had been spent bedridden. His ashes were buried in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
In the last ten years of his life, de la Mare was given a number of awards for his contribution to literature, such as the Companion of Honour in 1948 and the Order of Merit in 1953.
During his career, Walter de la Mare was responsible for a number of masterpieces. However, arguably his most famous poem is ‘The Listeners,’ a poem that looks at the limits of knowledge. The poem suggests that no matter how hard someone might look for answers, they might not always get them or be capable of getting them.
Walter de la Mare died a the age of 83. Unfortunately, He passed away from a heart attack in June 1956.
Like so many children born in the 19th century, their families would be living in conditions of extreme poverty. This was the case for Walter de la Mare, and at the young age of 16, circumstances pushed him to put himself into the workforce.
Walter de la Mare was somewhat unique in his approach to poetry, writing about romantic themes but with an air of fantasy or the supernatural. He was known for writing about subjects such as dreams, death, rare states of mind and emotion, fantasy worlds of childhood, and the pursuit of the transcendent.
The celebrated English poet Walter de la Mare was from Charlton in Kent, England. He was born in 1873 and went on to be educated in London at St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir School.