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This report is taken from PN Review 260, Volume 47 Number 6, July - August 2021.

‘Crusoe in England’ and de la Mare’s Desert Islands John Clegg
In October 1958, Elizabeth Bishop reviewed Walter de la Mare’s anthology for children, Come Hither, in Poetry (Chicago). It had been first printed in 1923, and just reissued by Knopf after de la Mare’s death in 1956.  ‘Although much of the poetry I admire is not to be found in it, I shall think this is the best anthology I know’, Bishop began. (W.H. Auden and Stevie Smith shared her opinion.) ‘He loves “little articles”, home-made objects whose value increases with age, Robinson Crusoe’s lists of his belongings… [...] After the poems come the notes, and the book is well worth buying for them alone. It is a Luna Park of strayed and straying information.’

‘Home-made’, so close to ‘Robinson Crusoe’, might naturally remind us of Bishop’s ‘Crusoe in England’: ‘Home-made, home-made! But aren’t we all?’ But it is worth noting that, while ‘Robinson Crusoe’s lists of his belongings’ appear nowhere in Come Hither – neither among the poems nor among the compendious notes and additional material – they form the primary subject of a different de la Mare anthology, Desert Islands (1930). I think this anthology was a major source, perhaps the major source, for Bishop’s poem.

To describe it as an anthology sells Desert Islands short; it is, in fact, the text of a lecture delivered to the RSL, on Crusoe, Defoe and desert islands in literature, which takes up 70 pages in large print, followed by 250 pages in small print of ‘rambling commentary’ – a mix of de la Mare’s own notes and ...


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