Walter de la Mare cigarette card

Welcome back to the Richmond Read-along! Today we are reading a poem by Walter de la Mare, one of the many illustrious residents of Richmond Borough past. De la Mare lived in Twickenham, on the same street Tennyson had previously lived on (Montpelier Row, for any residents interested in making a local literary pilgrimage.) De la Mare is best known for his children’s works and poems such as “The Listener,” but he also wrote novels, short stories and poems for adults. An excellent example of romantic sensibilities, de la Mare’s stories often had elements of the supernatural and an ominous atmosphere. His works were imaginative and playful, something which comes across not only in his subject matter but the variety of poetic styles in which he wrote. He held great regard for the imagination and his creativity imbues his works with a childlike nostalgia and a novelty of imagery. The juxtaposition between the two has led his works for both adults and children to be widely beloved, despite some critics seeing it as unsophisticated.

Today’s poem is on the theme of artistic inspiration, beginning with platitudes bordering on saccharine before branching out into a consideration of despair, perseverance, and hope:

The Imp Within

‘rouse now, my dullard, and thy wits awake;
‘Tis first of the morning. And I bid thee make—
No, not a vow; we have munched our fill of these
From crock of bone-dry crusts and mouse-gnawn cheese—
Nay, just one whisper in that long, long ear—
Awake; rejoice. Another Day is here:—

‘A virgin wilderness, which, hour by hour,
Mere happy idleness shall bring to flower.
Barren and arid though its sands now seem,
Wherein oasis becks not, shines no stream.
Yet wake—and lo, ’tis lovelier than a dream.

‘Plunge on, thy every footprint shall make fair
Its thirsty waste; and thy foregone despair
Undarken into sweet birds in the air,
Whose coursing wings and love-crazed summoning cries
Into infinity shall attract thine eyes.

‘No . . . ? Well, lest promise in performance faint,
A less inviting prospect will I paint.
I bid thee adjure thy Yesterday, and say:
“As thou wast, Enemy, so be To-day.—
Immure me in the same close narrow room;
Be hated toil the lamp to light its gloom;
Make stubborn my pen; sift dust into my ink;
Forbid mine eyes to see, my brain to think.
Scare off the words whereon the mind is set.
Make memory the power to forget.
Constrain imagination; bind its wing;
Forbid the unseen Enchantresses to sing.
Ay, do thy worst!”

‘Vexed Spectre, prythee smile.
Even though that yesterday was bleak and sour.
Art thou a slave beneath its thong to cower?
Thou hast survived. And hither am I—again,
Kindling with mockery thy o’erlaboured brain.
Though scant the moments be wherein we meet,
Think, what dark months would even one make sweet.

‘Thy quill? Thy paper? Ah, my dear, be true.
Come quick To-morrow. Until then, Adieu.’

You can find this poem at Wikisource. Read more about de la Mare at The Poetry Foundation.

Join us again tomorrow for the next Richmond Read-along!