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Walter de la Mare (Walter John De La Mare) Biography

(1873–1956), (Walter John De La Mare), Songs of Childhood, Henry Brocken, Poems, The Listeners, Peacock Pie

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British poet, born at Charlton in South East London, educated at St Paul's Cathedral Choir School; he subsequently worked as a clerk with the Anglo-American Oil Company in London. Songs of Childhood, his first volume of poetry, was published under the pseudonym ‘Walter Ramal’ in 1902. Henry Brocken (1904) was the first of his novels, its narrative of encounters with famous literary characters establishing the fantastic mode of much of his fiction. Poems (1906) consolidated his reputation and in 1908 he left his commercial employment to devote himself to writing. The Listeners (1912), his first widely successful volume, whose title-piece is perhaps his best-known poem, Peacock Pie (1913), Motley (1918), and The Veil (1921) are among the collections of verse that gained him a large popular readership. With Lascelles Abercrombie and Wilfrid Gibson he was a beneficiary of Rupert Brooke's will, entitling him to considerable sums in royalties after 1915. Although his poetry has a certain narrowness of range in common with the work of many of the Georgian poets (see Georgian Poetry) with whom he was associated, its compellingly imaginative character and flexible mastery of traditional forms won him the enduring respect of many discerning critics. Mortality and vague but incontrovertible apprehensions of the afterlife are central themes in many of his poems. The novels which gained him a high standing include the chilling parable of damnation in The Return (1910); and Memoirs of a Midget (1921), which recounts the frequently bizarre events in the life of its diminutive heroine, Miss M. The Fleeting (1933), in which the meditative and imaginative qualities of his verse are intensified, Memory (1938), and The Burning Glass (1945) are among his numerous further collections of poetry; the long discursive poems The Traveller (1946) and Winged Chariot (1951) form expositions of the philosophy of the interpenetration of the natural and the supernatural worlds that informs most of his work. Collected Rhymes and Verses (1944; reissued 1947, 1970, 1989) and Collected Poems (1942; reissued 1979) were compiled in accordance with de la Mare's division of his work into lighter and more serious modes; Complete Poems (1969) included a number of previously unpublished poems. Collected Stories for Children was published in 1947. His work as an anthologist is chiefly represented by Come Hither (1923), a collection for children which has remained popular, and Behold This Dreamer (1939), a compendious gathering of poetry and prose relating to sleep, dreams, and paranormal experience. In 1953 he was awarded the Order of Merit.

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