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An Analysis of the Poem 'Silver' (1913) by Walter De La Mare

Author:

Glenis studied for a B.A (Hons) in English Literature after taking early retirement. She was awarded her degree at the age of 67.

Photo © Steve Fareham (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Photo © Steve Fareham (cc-by-sa/2.0)

"Peacock Pie"—a Book of Children’s Rhymes

Walter de la Mare (1873 to 1956) was an English writer of fiction and poetry for both adult and children. In a poll conducted by The Bookworm programme in 1995 to find the Nation's favourite poem, his poem Silver was voted number 63 out of the top 100 poems. The poem was first published In a book of delightful children’s rhymes titled Peacock Pie, in 1913. This anthology has been republished several times, most recently by Faber and Faber in 2015.

'Silver' (1913) by Walter de la Mare

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;

A moveless fish in the water gleams

By silver reeds in a silver stream.

Imagery in the Poem 'Silver'

One of the delights of poetry is finding a particularly powerful image. Many early 20th-century poets prioritised this aspect of their creative writing by finding powerful images to stimulate the senses and imagination of their readers. The poem 'Silver' is notable for the exquisite visual imagery within the lines.

The moon is personified and characterised as female (note the use of the word she). The moon is slowly peering into every nook and cranny almost like a slow-moving searchlight. Nothing escapes her beam—the fruit on the trees, the casement lights of the buildings, the dog in the kennel and the doves in the dovecote.

The poem is subtly located in time and place - the 'harvest mouse' suggests the season and the implied location is rural - there are fruit trees, a dovecote, and a stream with fish. The ambience of the location is quiet and hushed - the dog and doves are sleeping, and the fish are 'moveless'.

Techniques used to create imagery in the poem include -

  • The repeated use of the word 'silver' - nine repetitions plus one 'silvery'. All has been transformed to silver by the moon - the fruit on the trees, the windows, the dogs paws, the doves feathers, the eyes and claws of the field mouse, the fish, the reeds and the water in the stream.
  • The literary stylistics device of the alliterated sibilant letter 's', which makes a hissing sound, encouraging the use of a hushed voice, consistent with the location of the poem at night. The effect that is produced emphasises the mysterious, almost uncanny, nature of the effect of a silver moon on all that falls under her light.
  • The extended metaphors. In lines 1-6; the moon is a female wearing silver shoes (shoon) to walk through the night, inspecting all in her path. In the lines that follow, the features of the animals and the fruit are not like silver - they have been transformed into silver by the moonlight.


Other Poetic Devices in 'Silver'

  • Enjambment - used at the end of lines 1,3,5 and 13. In this poem the technique of enjambment prevents emphasis from being placed on the end rhymes of the lines, because the lack of punctuation means that there is no pause between the end of the line and the start of the line that follows it.Tip - read the poem out loud paying attention the enjambment. You will find that the sound and rhythm are quite different than if you allow the lines to rhyme.
  • Similie - the dog sleeps like a log (lines 7/8). Creates an image in the mind of the reader of both the physical shape and the immobility of the sleeping dog .

The Form of the Poem 'Silver'

  • Fourteen lines, comprised of seven rhyming couplets. This structure is very loosely based on a traditional sonnet form but note that this is where the similarity to the sonnet form ends - the poem does not fulfil the requirements for the line length, rhythm or rhyme of a sonnet.
  • End rhyme pattern:- aabbccddeeffgghh
  • Line lengths in syllables - 8/8/8/8/7/8/8/8/10/9/9/8/9/9

Romanticism in Poetry

The heyday of the romantic period in literature had drawn to a close by the mid nineteenth century, before Walter de la Mare was born (1873). Nevertheless, he is regarded by many as an exemplar of romanticism in the literary form. Nowadays, there is a tendency to associate 'romanticism' with love but in literary terms it is associated with the imagination and the way in which we perceive the world around us. Within these parameters, I would argue that Silver is a romantic poem. De la Mare has closely observed the transformative phenomenon of a silver moon on the natural world, the creatures that inhabit it, and on inanimate objects. Silver is an example of the extraordinary power, ascribed to him in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, to evoke the evanescent moments in life.


His greatest concern was the creation of a dreamlike tone implying a tangible but nonspecific transcendent reality.

— Poetry Foundation

Walter de la Mare (foreground) with W.B.Yeats.

Walter de la Mare (foreground) with W.B.Yeats.

Awards Given to Walter de la Mare OM CH

James Tait Black Memorial Prize (1921)

Carnegie Medal (1947)

Companion of Honour (1948)

Order of Merit (1953)

Further Information

  • Walter de la Mare | British author | Britannica.com
    Walter de la Mare: Walter de la Mare, British poet and novelist with an unusual power to evoke the ghostly, evanescent moments in life. De la Mare was educated at St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir School in London, and from 1890 to 1908 he worked in the Lon
  • Walter de La Mare | Poetry Foundation
    Walter de la Mare is considered one of modern literature's chief exemplars of the romantic imagination. His complete works form a sustained treatment of romantic themes: dreams, death, rare states of mind and emotion, fantasy worlds of childhood, and

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.

Questions & Answers

Question: Why is the cote shadowy while the doves are white and silvery?

Answer: In his poem Silver, Walter de la Mare is describing the visual effects created by a full moon - which is sometimes called a silver moon. Some features of the landscape when the moon is full will be dark and in shadow, whereas light colours, such as white doves, are thrown into relief by the effect of the moon. Describing the doves as silver continues the theme of the magical silvery effect created by the moonlight.

Question: Have you ever been accused of plagiarism when writing about a poem?

Answer: No. But I don’t write about poems that are protected by copyright. If you want to include the full text of a poem that is copyrighted you should seek permission via the publisher. Nor do I copy text from articles by other writers. If I draw on the work of other writers I give appropriate credit in a bibliography, using the Harvard format.

Question: Why are there so many words beginning with 's' in the poem Silver?

Answer: The letter 's' is a soft consonant that is alliterated throughout the poem 'Silver'. Alliterated consonants emphasize the alliterated words in a line.

A sibilance is a special form of alliteration that is used with soft consonants, most commonly with the letter 's' - which produces a hissing sound when spoken aloud by someone who speaks Standard, aka Received, English.

In the poem 'Silver' the sounds produced by the technique enhances the pervasive mood of secrecy and mystery, as it encourages the reader to speak in a hushed voice. I encourage you to read 'Silver' aloud to get the full effect of the sibilance.

Question: Which of the objects, animals, etc. in the poem are at rest without any motion?

Answer: If you read the lines of the poem closely you will see that the poet uses the simile of a log - which clearly is inanimate - to describe the sleeping dog. The doves are also sleeping, and the fish is motionless, but a mouse is in motion. The writer creates the impression that the moonbeams are moving in a way that a searchlight might move.

Question: In his poem 'Silver,' Walter de La Mare writes of the moonwalking. What does de La Mare mean by moonwalking?

Answer: This is an example of a branch of figurative language called personification. Clearly, the moon cannot walk in the way that living creatures are able to walk. Walter de la Mare is writing in a non-literal sense in order to create an impact on the imagination of his reader. I think that is choosing to describe the effect of the moon on the earth below it in this way the poet creates a deeper, emotional, response in his readers.

In fact, as the earth turns on its axis the moon does appear to move across the night sky. But describing this movement figuratively brings a tone of mystery and magic to the lines, creating a vivid impression that the moon is alive and seeking out features in the dark landscape.

Question: Which figure of speech is used in and ‘ the moveless fish in the water gleam’ in the poem, "Silver"?

Answer: You might argue that the term ‘moveless fish’ is an oxymoron, as fish are generally thought of like swimming. However, some fish sleep at night, so the description is not a true oxymoron. I think that the adjective ‘moveless’ emphasizes the imagery of the dark moonlit night described in the poem.

Question: What figure of speech does the poet use in line 1 to 3 of the poem Silver?

Answer: The figure of speech in the first lines of the poem is personification.i.e. The moon is depicted as a live female who is walking around the earth inquisitively whilst wearing silver shoes.

© 2019 Glen Rix

Comments

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 29, 2019:

I share your love of poetry from the Romantic era. The image of the silver moon transferring its silvery quality onto a variety of objects is adorable. Beautiful poem, and your appreciation of its poetic attributes is done with excellence. Takes me back to the good old days of English Literature classes. Thanks!

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on January 28, 2019:

A wonderful poem and a very well written analysis.

Liz Westwood from UK on January 28, 2019:

You have given a thorough analysis of Silver. It takes me back to my English Literature student days.

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