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Life Sketch of Walter de la Mare

Writing life sketches of poets, philosophers, politicians, and saints offers space for learning and honing critical thinking skills.

Walter de la Mare

Walter de la Mare

Early Life and Ancestry

Walter John Delamare was born in Kent, England, on April 25, 1873. He disliked his first name "Walter"; he preferred to be called "Jack," the nickname for his middle name. His parents were James Edward Delamare, who served as an official at the Bank of England, and Lucy Sophia Browning, whose relation to the poet Robert Browning remains in dispute. He was the sixth of seven children born to the Delamares.

De la Mare's mother, Lucy, was a Scot, and on his father's side the family descended from the French Huguenots. De la Mare began publishing under the pseudonym, Walter Ramal, then later in his thirties converted to the original French spelling of his family name, "de la Mare," which he deemed more poetic.

De la Mare’s father died when Walter was only four, leaving his widow to struggle raising their seven children. De la Mare’s financial situation remained tenuous until after his writing career ultimately garnered him a secure financial backing; he had to leave college because of lack of funds.

Work, Publishing, Awards

After his education at St. Paul's Cathedral Choir School in London where he founded and edited the school’s journal called The Choristers’ Journal, De la Mare served in the accounting department at Standard Oil, an Anglo-American Oil Company, from 1890 until 1908, when he became the recipient of the royal bounty grant of £200. Through the recommendation and support of fellow poet, Henry Newbolt, De la Mare was able to secure this coveted grant, which allowed him to leave Standard Oil to spend his time on his creative writing.

In 1915, De la Mare was awarded a civil-list pension of £100 per annum for life. This grant secured his financial future. He also discovered in that same year that he was a beneficiary of the will of successful writer, Rupert Brooke. Brooke’s reputation was on the rise, and by 1920, because of the Brooke inheritance, De la Mare was commanding a yearly stipend of £2,000 from that source.

De la Mare was twice nominated for knighthood in 1924 and 1931, but turned down both offers. However, in 1948, he accepted the Companion of Honour award as well as the 1953 award of the Order of Merit.

In 1947, his Collected Stories for Children, won the Carnegie Metal. He received the Foyle Poetry Prize in 1954.

De la Mare had began publishing his writings in 1895 with his first short story, "Kismet," published in The Sketch. At that time, he used the pen-name "Walter Ramal." In 1902, he published a book of poems, Songs of Childhood, still under the pen-name. In 1904, he dropped the pen-name and published his first novel Henry Brocken under his own name; this work featured characters from such as Jane Eyre and Gulliver from English literature.

Novels

Henry Brocken was unsuccessful, selling only a handful of copies, but he continued to write, and as a full-time writer, he often supplemented his income by writing reviews for Saturday Westminster Gazette and the Times Literary Supplement. In 1906, he published a collection simply titled, Poems. From this point on, he published poetry, short stories, novels, or essays virtually every year.

De la Mare published his second novel, The Return, in 1910, and it was quite successful, garnering two prizes, Polignac Prize and the Royal Society of Literature Prize. He continued to gain recognition as excerpts from his poetry collection, The Listeners, were anthologized in Georgian Poetry 1911-1912.

In 1921, De la Mare’s third novel, Memoirs of a Midget, received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. Firmly established in the literary world of the day, he continued to garner awards and honors for his prodigious output of works.

Great Children’s Collection and a Cult Classic

In 1913, De la Mare’s published a collection for children, Peacock Pie, which The Times newspaper has deemed "one of the great children's books of the century."

The Listeners, which is one of De la Mare's most successful collections of poetry, features the eerie title poem, "The Listeners," a work that has gathered a cult-like following. The famous novelist and poet, Thomas Hardy, said about this poem, "'The Listeners' is possibly the finest poem of the century."

Hardy’s widow reported that toward the end of Hardy's life, her husband would become weary listening to prose, but he would have her read "The Listeners" to him in the middle of the night.

Marriage

In 1892, after joining the dramatics club, Esperanza Amateur Dramatics, De la Mare met Elfrida Ingpen, the leading lady. Ingpen was ten years de la Mare's senior, but the two fell in love and married on August 7, 1899. The couple produced four offspring: Richard, Colin, Florence, and Lucy. The family resided first in Beckenham and then Anerley until 1924. Their home was noted for hosting lively parties that featured games such as charades.

Elfrida was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1940. For the next three years, Mrs. de la Mare passed her life as an invalid and succumbed to her illness in 1943. De la Mare then relocated to Twickenham, where he spent the rest of his life.

Death

After his wife's passing, de la Mare continued to publish and edit his works. He began to suffer from a heart condition in 1947. His last year of life found him bed-ridden. He received constant care from a nurse with whom had a close, affectionate relationship.

De la Mare died of coronary thrombosis on June 22, 1956. His ashes rest in a crypt at St. Paul's Cathedral, where the poet once served as a choirboy. It has been reported that De la Mare’s last words were,"I'm perfectly all right."

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on July 18, 2021:

Thank you, Linda Crampton. Yes, de la Mare is an interesting poet. His poem, "Silver," captured my imagination in high school and is responsible for my lifelong study and writing of poetry. I found it especially fascinating that Thomas Hardy had deemed de la Mare's "The Listeners"" possibly the finest poem of the century."

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 18, 2021:

Thank you for creating this article. When I saw the title in my feed, I realized that I hadn't heard anything about Walter de la Mare since my childhood. It was interesting to learn about his life.

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