20th Century Poetry #10: Walter de la Mare

One way to understand where poetry is now is to see where it was a hundred years ago. Every Saturday I’ll be posting not the best, but at least the most representative, poems from the last century, where we can see poetry constantly changing. You can read the other entries here.



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

Sad winds where your voice was;
Tears, tears where my heart was;
     And ever with me,
     Child, ever with me,
Silence where hope was.



The Scarecrow

All winter through I bow my head
     Beneath the driving rain;
The North Wind powders me with snow
     And blows me black again;
At midnight in a maze of stars
     I flame with glittering rime,
And stand, above the stubble, stiff
     As mail at morning-prime.
But when that child, called Spring, and all
     His host of children, come,
Scattering their buds and dew upon
     These acres of my home,
Some rapture in my rags awakes;
     I lift void eyes and scan
The skies for crows, those ravening foes,
     Of my strange master, Man.
I watch him striding lank behind
     His clashing team, and know
Soon will the wheat swish body high
     Where once lay sterile snow;
Soon shall I gaze across a sea
     Of sun-begotten grain,
Which my unflinching watch hath sealed
     For harvest once again.



All That’s Past

Very old are the woods;
     And the buds that break
Out of the brier’s boughs,
     When March winds wake,
So old with their beauty are –
     Oh, no man knows
Through what wild centuries
     Roves back the rose.

Very old are the brooks;
     And the rills that rise
Where snow sleeps cold beneath
     The azure skies
Sing such a history
     Of come and gone,
Their every drop is as wise
     As Solomon.

Very old are we men;
     Our dreams are tales
Told in dim Eden
     By Eve’s nightingales;
We wake and whisper awhile,
     But, the day gone by,
Silence and sleep like fields
     Of amaranth lie.



The Railway Junction

From here through tunnelled gloom the track
Forks into two; and one of these
Wheels onward into darkening hills,
And one toward distant seas.

How still it is; the signal light
At set of sun shines palely green;
A thrush sings; other sound there’s none,
Nor traveller to be seen –

Where late there was a throng. And now,
In peace awhile, I sit alone;
Though soon, at the appointed hour,
I shall myself be gone.

But not their way; the bow-legged groom,
The parson in black, the widow and son,
The sailor with his cage, the gaunt
Gamekeeper with his gun,

That fair one, too, discreetly veiled –
All, who so mutely came, and went,
Will reach those far nocturnal hills,
Or shores, ere night is spent.

I nothing know why thus we met –
Their thoughts, their longings, hopes, their fate:
And what shall I remember, except –
The evening growing late –

That here through tunnelled gloom the track
Forks into two; of these
One into darkening hills leads on,
And one toward distant seas?