Poems of Walter de la Mare, 1873-1956

Selected from Collected Poems 1901-1918, Vol II: Songs of Childhood, Peacock Pie, 1920, unless otherwise noted. We compiled a brief biography of de la Mare for you. Click here to read it. Purchase AO's Volume 2 poetry collection, which includes de la Mare, Field, Riley, and Rossetti in paperback or Kindle ($amzn) (K)

01. The Horseman
02. Up and Down
03. Mrs. Earth
04. Tired Tim
05. I Can't Abear
06. Some One
07. The Little Bird
08. The Cupboard
09. Hide and Seek
10. The Window
11. A Widow's Weeds
12. The Little Green Orchard
13. King David
14. The Old House
15. Unstooping
16. All But Blind
17. Nicholas Nye
18. Five Eyes
19. Summer Evening
20. Earth Folk
21. The Ruin
22. Trees
23. Silver
24. Nobody Knows
25. Wanderers
26. Many a Mickle
27. Will Ever?
28. The Song of the Secret
29. The Song of the Soldiers
30. The Bees' Song
31. Song of Enchantment
32. Dream Song
33. The Song of Shadows
34. The Song of the Mad Prince
35. The Song of Finis
36. November
37. The Scribe
38. The Universe
39. Alone
40. The Listeners
41. Come!

01. The Horseman

I heard a horseman
   Ride over the hill;
The moon shone clear,
The night was still;
His helm was silver,
   And pale was he;
And the horse he rode
   Was of ivory.

02. Up and Down

Down the Hill of Ludgate,
   Up the Hill of Fleet,
To and fro and East and West
   With people flows the street;
Even the King of England
   On Temple Bar must beat
For leave to ride to Ludgate
   Down the Hill of Fleet.

03. Mrs. Earth

Mrs. Earth makes silver black,
   Mrs. Earth makes iron red
But Mrs. Earth can not stain gold,
   Nor ruby red.
Mrs. Earth the slenderest bone
   Whitens in her bosom cold,
But Mrs. Earth can change my dreams
   No more than ruby or gold.
Mrs. Earth and Mr. Sun
   Can tan my skin, and tire my toes,
But all that I'm thinking of, ever shall think,
   Why, either knows.

04. Tired Tim

Poor Tired Tim! It's sad for him.
He lags the long bright morning through,
Ever so tired of nothing to do;
He moons and mopes the livelong day,
Nothing to think about, nothing to say;
Up to bed with his candle to creep,
Too tired to yawn, too tired to sleep:
Poor Tired Tim! It's sad for him.

05. I Can't Abear

I can't abear a Butcher,
   I can't abide his meat,
The ugliest shop of all is his,
   The ugliest in the street;
Bakers' are warm, cobblers' dark,
   Chemists' burn watery lights;
But oh, the sawdust butcher's shop,
   That ugliest of sights!

06. Some One

Some one came knocking
   At my wee, small door;
Some one came knocking,
   I'm sure -- sure -- sure;
I listened, I opened,
   I looked to left and right,
But naught there was a-stirring
   In the still dark night;
Only the busy beetle
   Tap-tapping in the wall,
Only from the forest
   The screech-owl's call,
Only the cricket whistling
   While the dewdrops fall,
So I know not who came knocking,
At all, at all, at all.

07. The Little Bird

My dear Daddie bought a mansion
   For to bring my Mammie to,
In a hat with a long feather,
   And a trailing gown of blue;
And a company of fiddlers
   And a rout of maids and men
Danced the clock round to the morning,
   In a gay house-warming then.
And when all the guests were gone, and
   All was still as still can be,
In from the dark ivy hopped a
   Wee small bird: and that was Me.

08. The Cupboard

I know a little cupboard,
     With a teeny tiny key,
And there's a jar of Lollypops
          For me, me, me.

It has a little shelf, my dear,
     As dark as dark can be,
And there's a dish of Banbury Cakes
          For me, me, me.

I have a small fat grandmamma,
     With a very slippery knee,
And she's the Keeper of the Cupboard
          With the key, key, key.

And when I'm very good, my dear,
     As good as good can be,
There's Banbury Cakes, and Lollypops
          For me, me, me.

09. Hide and Seek

Hide and seek, says the Wind,
   In the shade of the woods;
Hide and seek, says the Moon,
   To the hazel buds;
Hide and seek, says the Cloud,
   Star on to star;
Hide and seek, says the Wave,
   At the harbour bar;
Hide and seek, say I,
   To myself, and step
Out of the dream of Wake
   Into the dream of Sleep.

10. The Window

Behind the blinds I sit and watch
   The people passing - passing by;
And not a single one can see
   My tiny watching eye.

They cannot see my little room,
   All yellowed with the shaded sun;
They do not even know I'm here;
   Nor'll guess when I am gone.

11. A Widow's Weeds

"Widow's weeds" means black mourning clothes; but in this poem it has a double meaning.

A poor old Widow in her weeds
Sowed her garden with wild-flower seeds;
Not too shallow, and not too deep,
And down came April -- drip -- drip -- drip.
Up shone May, like gold, and soon
Green as an arbour grew leafy June.
And now all summer she sits and sews
Where willow herb, comfrey, bugloss blows,
Teasle and pansy, meadowsweet,
Campion, toadflax, and rough hawksbit;
Brown bee orchis, and Peals of Bells;
Clover, burnet, and thyme she smells;
Like Oberon's meadows her garden is
Drowsy from dawn to dusk with bees.
Weeps she never, but sometimes sighs,
And peeps at her garden with bright brown eyes;
And all she has is all she needs--
A poor Old Widow in her weeds.

12. The Little Green Orchard

Some one is always sitting there,
         In the little green orchard;
   Even when the sun is high
   In noon's unclouded sky,
   And faintly droning goes
   The bee from rose to rose,
Some one in shadow is sitting there
         In the little green orchard.

Yes, when the twilight's falling softly
         In the little green orchard;
   When the grey dew distills
   And every flower-cup fills;
   When the last blackbird says,
   'What -- what!' and goes her way -- ssh!
I have heard voices calling softly
         In the little green orchard.

Not that I am afraid of being there,
        In the little green orchard;
   Why, when the moon's been bright,
   Shedding her lonesome light,
   And moths like ghosties come,
   And the horned snail leaves home:
I've sat there, whispering and listening there,
         In the little green orchard.

Only it's strange to be feeling there,
         In the little green orchard;
   Whether you paint or draw,
   Dig, hammer, chop or saw;
   When you are most alone,
   All but the silence gone . . .
Some one is watching and waiting there,
         In the little green orchard.

13. King David

   King David was a sorrowful man:
      No cause for his sorrow had he;
And he called for the music of a hundred harps,
      To ease his melancholy.

   They played till they all fell silent:
      Played--and play sweet did they;
But the sorrow that haunted the heart of King David
      They could not charm away.

   He rose; and in his garden
      Walked by the moon alone,
A nightingale hidden in a cypress-tree
      Jargoned on and on.

   King David lifted his sad eyes
      Into the dark-boughed tree-
''Tell me, thou little bird that singest,
      Who taught my grief to thee?"

   But the bird in no wise heeded
      And the king in the cool of the moon
Hearkened to the nightingale's sorrowfulness,
      Till all his own was gone.

14. The Old House

A very, very old house I know--
And ever so many people go,
Past the small lodge, forlorn and still,
Under the heavy branches, till
Comes the blank wall, and there's the door.
Go in they do; come out no more.
No voice says aught; no spark of light
Across that threshold cheers the sight;
Only the evening star on high
Less lonely makes a lonely sky,
As, one by one, the people go
Into that very old house I know.

15. Unstooping

Low on his fours the Lion
   Treads with the surly Bear;
But Men straight upward from the dust
   Walk with their heads in air;
The free sweet winds of heaven,
   The sunlight from on high
Beat on their clear bright cheeks and brows
   As they go striding by;
The doors of all their houses
   They arch so they may go,
Uplifted o'er the four-foot beasts,
   Unstooping, to and fro.

16. All But Blind

All but blind
   In his chambered hole
Gropes for worms
   The four-clawed Mole.

All but blind
   In the evening sky
The hooded Bat
   Twirls softly by.

All but blind
   In the burning day
The Barn-Owl blunders
   On her way.

And blind as are
   These three to me,
So blind to someone
   I must be.

17. Nicholas Nye

Thistle and darnell and dock grew there,
      And a bush, in the corner, of may,
On the orchard wall I used to sprawl
      In the blazing heat of the day;
Half asleep and half awake,
      While the birds went twittering by,
And nobody there my lone to share
            But Nicholas Nye.

Nicholas Nye was lean and gray,
      Lame of leg and old,
More than a score of donkey's years
      He had been since he was foaled;
He munched the thistles, purple and spiked,
      Would sometimes stoop and sigh,
And turn to his head, as if he said,
            "Poor Nicholas Nye!"

Alone with his shadow he'd drowse in the meadow,
      Lazily swinging his tail,
At break of day he used to bray,--
      Not much too hearty and hale;
But a wonderful gumption was under his skin,
      And a clean calm light in his eye,
And once in a while; he'd smile:--
            Would Nicholas Nye.

Seem to be smiling at me, he would,
      From his bush in the corner, of may,--
Bony and ownerless, widowed and worn,
      Knobble-kneed, lonely and gray;
And over the grass would seem to pass
      'Neath the deep dark blue of the sky,
Something much better than words between me
            And Nicholas Nye.

But dusk would come in the apple boughs,
      The green of the glow-worm shine,
The birds in nest would crouch to rest,
      And home I'd trudge to mine;
And there, in the moonlight, dark with dew,
      Asking not wherefore nor why,
Would brood like a ghost, and as still as a post,
            Old Nicholas Nye.

18. Five Eyes

In Hans' old Mill his three black cats
Watch the bins for the thieving rats.
Whisker and claw, they crouch in the night,
Their five eyes smouldering green and bright:
Squeaks from the flour sacks, squeaks from where
The cold wind stirs on the empty stair,
Squeaking and scampering, everywhere.
Then down they pounce, now in, now out,
At whisking tail, and sniffing snout;
While lean old Hans he snores away
Till peep of light at break of day;
Then up he climbs to his creaking mill,
Out come his cats all grey with meal--
Jekkel, and Jessup, and one-eyed Jill.

19. Summer Evening

The sandy cat by the Farmer's chair
Mews at his knee for dainty fare;
Old Rover in his moss-greened house
Mumbles a bone, and barks at a mouse
In the dewy fields the cattle lie
Chewing the cud 'neath a fading sky
Dobbin at manger pulls his hay:
Gone is another summer's day.

20. Earth Folk

The cat she walks on padded claws,
The wolf on the hills lays stealthy paws,
Feathered birds in the rain-sweet sky
At their ease in the air, flit low, flit high.

The oak's blind, tender roots pierce deep,
His green crest towers, dimmed in sleep,
Under the stars whose thrones are set
Where never prince hath journeyed yet.

21. The Ruin

When the last colours of the day
Have from their burning ebbed away,
About that ruin, cold and lone,
The cricket shrills from stone to stone;
And scattering o'er its darkened green,
Bands of the fairies may be seen,
Chattering like grasshoppers, their feet
Dancing a thistledown dance round it:
While the great gold of the mild moon
Tinges their tiny acorn shoon.

22. Trees

Of all the trees in England,
   Her sweet three corners in,
Only the Ash, the bonnie Ash
   Burns fierce while it is green.

Of all the trees in England,
   From sea to sea again,
The Willow loveliest stoops her boughs
   Beneath the driving rain.

Of all the trees in England,
   Past frankincense and myrrh,
There's none for smell, of bloom and smoke,
   Like Lime and Juniper.

Of all the trees in England,
   Oak, Elder, Elm and Thorn,
The Yew alone burns lamps of peace
   For them that lie forlorn.

23. Silver

Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon:
This way, and that, she peers and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws and silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam
By silver reeds in a silver stream.

24. Nobody Knows

Often I've heard the Wind sigh
   By the ivied orchard wall,
Over the leaves in the dark night,
   Breathe a sighing call,
And faint away in the silence
   While I, in my bed,
Wondered, 'twixt dreaming and waking,
      What it said.

Nobody knows what the Wind is,
   Under the height of the sky,
Where the hosts of the stars keep far away house
   And its wave sweeps by--
Just a great wave of the air,
   Tossing the leaves in its sea,
And foaming under the eaves of the roof
      That covers me.

And so we live under deep water,
   All of us, beasts and men,
And our bodies are buried down under the sand,
   When we go again;
And leave, like the fishes, our shells,
   And float on the Wind and away,
To where, o'er the marvellous tides of the air,
   Burns day.

25. Wanderers

Wide are the meadows of night,
   And daisies are shining there,
Tossing their lovely dews,
   Lustrous and fair;
And through these sweet fields go,
   Wanderers amid the stars--
Venus, Mercury, Uranus, Neptune,
   Saturn, Jupiter, Mars.

'Tired in their silver, they move,
   And circling, whisper and say,
Fair are the blossoming meads of delight
   Through which we stray.

26. Many a Mickle

A little sound--
   Only a little, a little--
The breath in a reed,
   A trembling fiddle;
A trumpet's ring,
   The shuddering drum;
So all the glory, bravery, hush
   Of music come.

A little sound--
   Only a stir and a sigh
Of each green leaf
   Its fluttering neighbor by;
Oak on to oak,
   The wide dark forest through--
So o'er the watery wheeling world
   The night winds go.

A little sound,
   Only a little, a little--
The thin high drone
   Of the simmering kettle,
The gathering frost,
   The click of needle and thread;
Mother, the fading wall, the dream,
   The drowsy bed.

27. Will Ever?

Will he ever be weary of wandering,
   The flaming sun?
Ever weary of waning in lovelight,
   The white still moon?
Will ever a shepherd come
   With a crook of simple gold,
And lead all the little stars
   Like lambs to the fold?

Will ever the Wanderer sail
   From over the sea,
Up the river of water,
   To the stones to me?
Will he take us all into his ship,
   Dreaming, and waft us far,
To where in the clouds of the West
   The Islands are?

28. The Song of the Secret

Where is beauty?
      Gone, gone:
The cold winds have taken it
   With their faint moan;
The white stars have shaken it,
   Trembling down,
Into the pathless deeps of the sea.
      Gone, gone
   Is beauty from me.

The clear naked flower
   Is faded and dead;
The green-leafed willow,
   Drooping her head,
Whispers low to the shade
   Of her boughs in the stream,
      Sighing a beauty,
      Secret as dream.

29. The Song of the Soldiers

As I sat musing by the frozen dyke,
There was a man marching with a bright steel pike,
Marching in the dayshine like a ghost came he,
And behind me was the moaning and the murmur
      Of the sea.

As I sat musing, 'twas not one but ten--
Rank on rank of ghostly soldiers marching o'er the fen,
Marching in the misty air they showed in dreams to me,
And behind me was the shouting and the shattering
      of the sea.

As I sat musing, 'twas a host in dark array,
With their horses and their cannon wheeling onward
      to the fray,
Moving like a shadow to the fate the brave must dree,
And behind me roared the drums, rang the trumpets
      Of the sea.

30. The Bees' Song

Thousandz of thornz there be
On the Rozez where gozez
The Zebra of Zee:
Sleek, striped, and hairy,
The steed of the Fairy
Princess of Zee.

Heavy with blossomz be
The Rozez that growzez
In the thickets of Zee.
Where grazez the Zebra,
Marked Abracadeeebra,
Of the Princess of Zee.

And he nozez that poziez
Of the Rozez that grozez
So luvez'm and free,
With an eye, dark and wary,
In search of a Fairy,
Whose Rozez he knowzez
Were not honeyed for he,
But to breathe a sweet incense
To solace the Princess
Of far-away Zee.

31. Song of Enchantment

"Widdershins" means counterclockwise. Going around something widdershins is said to cause bad luck.

A Song of Enchantment I sang me there,
In a green-green wood, by waters fair,
Just as the words came up to me
I sang it under the wildwood tree.

Widdershins turned I, singing it low,
Watching the wild birds come and go;
No cloud in the deep dark blue to be seen
Under the thick-thatched branches green.

Twilight came; silence came;
The planet of Evening's silver flame;
By darkening paths I wandered through
Thickets trembling with drops of dew.

But the music is lost and the words are gone
Of the song I sang as I sat alone,
Ages and ages have fallen on me--
On the wood and the pool and the elder tree.

32. Dream Song

      Sunlight, moonlight,
      Twilight, starlight--
Gloaming at the close of day,
      And an owl calling,
      Cool dews falling
In a wood of oak and may.

      Lantern-light, taper-light,
      Torchlight, no-light:
Darkness at the shut of day,
      And lions roaring,
      Their wrath pouring
In wild waste places far away.

      Elf-light, bat-light,
      Touchwood-light and toad-light,
And the sea a shimmering gloom of grey,
      And a small face smiling
      In a dream's beguiling
In a world of wonders far away.

33. The Song of Shadows

Sweep thy faint Strings, Musician,
   With thy long lean hand;
Downward the starry tapers burn,
   Sinks soft the waning sand;
The old hound whimpers couched in sleep,
   The embers smoulder low;
Across the walls the shadows
      Come, and go.

Sweep softly thy strings, Musician,
   The minutes mount to hours;
Frost on the windless casement weaves
   A labyrinth of flowers;
Ghosts linger in the darkening air,
   Hearken at the open door;
Music hath called them, dreaming,
      Home once more.

34. The Song of the Mad Prince

Who said, 'Peacock Pie?'
   The old King to the sparrow:
Who said, 'Crops are ripe?'
   Rust to the harrow:
Who said, 'Where sleeps she now?'
   Where rests she now her head,
Bathed in eve's loveliness'?--
   That's what I said.

Who said, 'Ay, mum's the word'?
   Sexton to willow:
Who said, 'Green duck for dreams,
   Moss for a pillow'?

Who said, 'All Time's delight
   Hath she for narrow bed;
Life's troubled bubble broken'?--
   That's what I said.

35. The Song of Finis

At the edge of All the Ages
   A Knight sate on his steed,
His armor red and thin with rust
   His soul from sorrow freed;
And he lifted up his visor
   From a face of skin and bone,
And his horse turned head and whinnied
   As the twain stood there alone.

No bird above that steep of time
   Sang of a livelong quest;
No wind breathed,
"Lone for an end!" cried Knight to steed,
   Loosed an eager rein--
Charged with his challenge into space:
   And quiet did quiet remain.

36. November (also called Autumn), from Poems, 1906

There is wind where the rose was,
Cold rain where sweet grass was,
     And clouds like sheep
     Stream o'er the steep
Grey skies where the lark was.

Nought warm where your hand was,
Nought gold where your hair was,
     But phantom, forlorn,
     Beneath the thorn,
Your ghost where your face was.

Cold wind where your voice was,
Tears, tears where my heart was,
     And ever with me,
     Child, ever with me,
Silence where hope was.

37. The Scribe, from Collected Poems, 1901-1918, 1920

What lovely things
    Thy hand hath made:
The smooth-plumed bird
    In its emerald shade,
The seed of the grass,
    The speck of the stone
Which the wayfaring ant
    Stirs -- and hastes on!

Though I should sit
    By some tarn in thy hills,
Using its ink
    As the spirit wills
To write of Earth's wonders,
    Its live, willed things,
Flit would the ages
    On soundless wings
Ere unto Z
    My pen drew nigh
Leviathan told,
    And the honey-fly:
And still would remain
    My wit to try--
My worn reeds broken,
    The dark tarn dry,
All words forgotten--
    Thou, Lord, and I.

38. The Universe, from Collected Poems, 1901-1918, 1920

I heard a little child beneath the stars
        Talk as he ran along
To some sweet riddle in his mind that seemed
        A-tiptoe into song.

In his dark eyes lay a wild universe,--
        Wild forests, peaks, and crests;
Angels and fairies, giants, wolves and he
        Were that world's only guests.

Elsewhere was home and mother, his warm bed:--
        Now, only God alone
Could, armed with all His power and wisdom, make
        Earths richer than his own.

O Man! -- thy dreams, thy passions, hopes, desires!--
        He in his pity keep
A homely bed where love may lull a child's
        Fond Universe asleep!

39. Alone from The Listeners, 1916

A very old woman
Lives in yon house--
The squeak of the cricket,
The stir of the mouse,
Are all she knows
Of the earth and us.

Once she was young,
Would dance and play,
Like many another
Young popinjay;
And run to her mother
At dusk of day.

And colours bright
She delighted in;
The fiddle to hear,
And to lift her chin,
And sing as small
As a twittering wren.

But age apace
Comes at last to all;
And a lone house filled
With the cricket's call;
And the scampering mouse
In the hollow wall.

40. The Listeners from The Listeners, 1916

'Is there anybody there?' said the Traveller,
     Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
     Of the forest's ferny floor.
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
     Above the Traveller's head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
     'Is there anybody there?' he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
     No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
     Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
     That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
     To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
     That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
     By the lonely Traveller's call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
     Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
     'Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
     Louder, and lifted his head:--
'Tell them I came, and no one answered,
     That I kept my word,' he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
     Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
     From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
     And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
     When the plunging hoofs were gone.

41. Come! from Poems, 1906

From an island of the sea
Sounds a voice that summons me,--
"Turn thy prow, sailor, come
        With the wind home!"

Sweet o'er the rainbow foam,
Sweet in the treetops, "Come,
Coral, cliff, and watery sand,
        Sea-wave to land!

"Droop not thy lids at night,
Furl not thy sails from flight! . . ."
Cease, cease, above the wave,
        Deep as the grave!

O, what voice of the salt sea
Calls me so insistently?
Echoes, echoes, night and day,--
        "Come, come away!"

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