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This item is taken from PN Review 130, Volume 26 Number 2, November - December 1999.

Letters from Gael Turnbull, Clive Wilmer, Joe Griffiths, Warren Hope, Bernard Bergonzi


James Kerry's review in PNR 128 mistakenly honours me with Canadian citizenship. He has probably based this error on the entry in the Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry. He is to be excused for assuming that a well known professional biographer published by a prestigious academic press would bother to check his facts, which is not the case.

I never was, or applied for, Canadian citizenship. In fact, other than a few years as a schoolboy during the war, I only lived in Canada for three years. He is correct in that I left in 1955 (unlike another recent publication which states 1989). But once these irritations get into print, there is a tendency for others to copy them, especially if already repeated.




In my essay 'On Originality' (PNR 128) I quoted the following epitaph, which I took to be anonymous:

Shee first deceased, Hee for a little Tryd
To live without her, likd it not and dyd.

As I now discover from Joshua Scodel's book The English Poetic Epitaph, this poem was in fact written by the poet and diplomat Sir Henry Wotton, who, like his friend John Donne, was the subject of one of Isaac Walton's Lives. Wotton wrote the poem in 1628 for the grave of a nephew's wife. It quickly became fashionable and was borrowed for many another family grave, including the one at St Bartholomew's.

I am, of course, struck by how this seems to confirm my argument: that good poetry need be neither original nor individual in its application.




Peter Scupham's article on Walter de la Mare (PNR 128) is an encouraging attempt to look behind the veneer of a reputation that deters publishers from reprinting his poetry and readers from encountering it. He is still popular, but only through a few poems that stereotype his work and prevent any deeper or wider engagement with the richness and depth of his Complete Poems (1969). A new selection of the poems would encourage this. I have suggested to Dent that such a selection for their Everyman's Poetry series would enable more readers to realise that he is one of the best poets of the twentieth century. They were interested in the proposal, but indicated their doubts about permission being given for reprinting. Are the Literary Trustees or Faber reluctant to approve ventures of this kind?

However, there are signs of a more discriminating interest being shown in his work. Theresa Whistler's biography, Imagination of the Heart (Duckworth, 1993), provides a factual framework that enables readers to see the extent to which his poetry is rooted in the soil of everyday life. There is a welcome correction to the overemphasis on the elusive charm of his poetry. Even a critic as intelligently sympathetic as Auden succumbs to this myth, when he comments in the introduction to his selection of de la Mare's verse (p. 24): 'I cannot recall coming across in his work a single Proper Name, whether of a person or a place, which one could identify as a real historical name.' A glance at the 'Contents' pages of the selection shows 'Thomas Hardy' and 'Napoleon' as the titles of poems. It is a slip that is symptomatic of a common misconception about his poetry. Reality enters in more forms than simply that of the intriguing 'John Mouldy'.

Having read Complete Poems over many years, I find that there is much evidence of the poet's successful struggle, during the course of his writing life, to engage more directly with the universal reality of death. His poems reveal major developments in both his understanding of this subject, and the manner in which this is expressed. I share Peter Scupham's enthusiasm for 'De Profundis', the work of a major poet. Its theme is the same as that of the earlier and much more widely admired 'The Song of the Mad Prince', in that the speaker in both poems struggles to accept the finality of the separation that death brings. It is worth noting that forty years and two world wars separate their publication and probably their composition. The later poem's setting is mundane, literal, everyday, factual, and realised with disconcerting objectivity. The earlier poem takes place in a world of fantasy, myth, legend, literature and madness. There is a corresponding development in technique. 'De Profundis' may be of sonnet length, but the liberties taken with the poetic forms suggest that the allusive music of 'The Song of the Mad Prince' is no longer an appropriate vehicle for the poet's experience of death between 1913 and 1953. The later speaker's colloquially repetitive and laconic statements have replaced the Hamlet-like questioning of the earlier poem. Both are fine poems, but there are fewer readers aware of the de la Mare of the later poem. Nor is it an isolated performance, since one finds an increasing number of such poems in the collections of his poetry from Motley (1918) onwards.

There is a scholarly work of criticism that covers all the major facets of his writing: Luce Bonnerot's L'Oeuvre de Walter de la Mare (Paris, 1969). An English translation of this would do much to raise critical awareness of his work for a wider audience. The most recent piece of scholarly research to my knowledge, is in Italian, by Silvia Severi (1995). Perhaps it will be our European neighbours who awaken us to the scope of a writer who seems so peculiarly English. Or is this seeming just another part of the fake veneer of a misleading reputation that needs to be pared away?

Peter Scupham believes that the collections of his short stories must be 'hunted down in second-hand bookshops'. This is no longer so. Giles de la Mare has published already Short Stories 1895-1926 (Giles de la Mare, 1996), with the second volume 1927-1956 due for publication in the autumn of 1999, and the third, Short Stories for Children, projected for 2000. Giles has also published the most recent bibliography, in which it is clear that Forrest Reid's pioneering work on de la Mare was preceded by R.L. Megroz's study, five years earlier in 1924. A Walter de la Mare Society was founded in 1998. It publishes an annual Magazine aimed at promoting interest in and study of his work. The bibliography appears in the 1998 issue. For anyone interested in either the Society or the Magazine the contact is:

Claire Sawford PR, Studio 6E,
The Courtyard, 44 Gloucester Avenue,
London NW1 8JD. Tel: 0171 722 4114
Fax: 0171 483 3838




I thoroughly enjoyed Peter Scupham's article on the poems of Norman Cameron (PNR 129) and certainly agree with him that The Collected Poems of Norman Cameron 1905-1953, introduced by Robert Graves and published by the Hogarth Press in 1957, is 'not a book people part easily with'. Still, your readers might be interested to know that The Collected Poems and Selected Verse Translations of Norman Cameron, published by Anvil Press in 1990, is still in print and readily available.

Havertown, PA



Andrew Waterman's excellent article on the Laureateship (PNR 129) hits so many nails squarely on the head that it seems ungracious to offer a factual correction. But I shall do so in the interests of accuracy. Waterman refers to a dismissive remark about Eliot's 'Prufrock' by Sir John Squire. In fact it was made by Arthur Waugh (Evelyn Waugh's father) and does not actually use the phrase 'drunken helot' that is often ascribed to him. In the course of an essay called 'The New Poetry' Waugh gave quotations from 'Prufrock' and from Pound's 'Further Instructions' as examples of a kind of poetry that had reduced itself to absurdity and proposed that they should serve as an awful warning: 'It was a classic custom in the family hall, when the feast was at its height, to display a drunken slave among the sons of the household, to the end that they, being ashamed at the ignominious folly of his gesticulations, might determine never to be tempted into such a pitiable condition themselves' (Tradition and Change: Studies in Contemporary Literature, London, 1919, p. 39. The book is dedicated to Evelyn Waugh, then sixteen).

Leamington Spa

This item is taken from PN Review 130, Volume 26 Number 2, November - December 1999.

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