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Walter de la Mare’s "Silver"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Walter de la Mare

Introduction and Text of "Silver"

Walter de la Mare’s “Silver” plays out in an American sonnet (Innovative sonnet), composed of seven riming couplets, in which the moon is personified as a lady out walking in silver slippers that shine upon the landscape causing everything visible to don a silver glow.

The speaker is taking a walk, and the moon shines gloriously upon the landscape. The speaker is emotionally enthralled by the transition from daylight appearance to nightlight appearance. The sun shows us all one scenario, while the moon reveals quite another. The sense of sight is predominant during this rendering; one barely hears anything save perhaps the "scampering" of a "harvest mouse." The quiet beauty seems to swell the heart of the observer with tranquil appreciation.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

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.

Reading of "Silver"

Commentary

During daylight hours, sunlight reveals the creatures and things of the earth in its golden light that reveals many varied colors, while during the nighttime hours, moonlight offers a very different experience of seeing everything through the lens of silver.

First Couplet: The Moon Walking at Night

Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;

The speaker begins by setting the scene of the moon slowly moving in silence upon the landscape. That moon is transforming the land in ways that one might not expect. In sunlight, the creatures of earth have come to expect the ability to see all things in a certain way, but in moonlight all is changed, all is so very delightfully different.

Instead of merely revealing the daylight consciousness experience of earthly creatures, the moon reveals a whole different scenario. The speaker portrays that difference by alerting the poem's audience that the moon is "walk[ing] the night," wearing "silver shoon." The British dialect that uses "shoon" for "shoes" effects a useful rime with "moon."

A silver slippered moon is walking the landscape "slowly" but also "silently." Nighttime is a time for reflection, contemplation, meditation. And those who have observed the stillness of nighttime with the moon shining searchingly, will attest to the serenity garnered from that quiet time of day: a time for still reflection and meditation on all that is beautiful, yet mysterious.

Second Couplet: The Moon Observing

This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;

The moonlight permeates the landscape during her walk. This metaphoric moon person "peers and sees." Anyone walking the silver-sprayed landscape at night might encounter certain objects being bathed and transformed by moonlight. This moon sees trees with fruit.

The metaphor of the moon as a person walking the landscape enlarges the vision for the reader/listener who, no doubt, has encountered such an experience. Who has not walked at night and observed the beauty of the transformed landscape from sunlight to moonlight? Colors are gone, fine definitions are gone, but what is left is a new experience of beauty that entices the observer with new, fascinating perceptions.

By personifying the moon as one who walks the landscape at night, the speaker/poet has given humanity back its experience of having seen that landscape and enjoyed it—perhaps without even realizing it, but still capturing it for future perusal in memory.

Because the poet has seen fit to capture that experience, his fellow earth inhabitants are now capable of experiencing it also. In the speaker's crystalline snapshot of his night walk in the silvery moonlight, he is creating a scene of beauty and stillness that complements the sun's golden featuring of day.

Third Couplet: All Bathed in Silver

One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;

The speaker then observes that the whole vantage point of his capability is bathed in silver. The windows of every cottage he has privilege to view are also bathed in that marvelous silver. The thatched roofs are flowing with silver. Everything is swimming in this mercurial silver.

But far from poisoning anything as the actual metal will do, this silver enlivens, enhances the beauty of the nighttime landscape. It merely proclaims that everything God has created is beautiful, if one can only open one’s eyes to see that beauty.

Most human eyes have become habituated to the fact that sunlight on a flower creates a wondrous spectacle of beauty; quite likely, far fewer would realize that the moonlight turning that same flower into a spectacle in silver could also offer an example of beauty. This speaker's unveiling his experience allows the reader to engage those hidden memories.

Fourth Couplet: Happy, Silvered Dogs

Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;

Human beings love their dogs—man’s best friend! So much so that most Americans will not likely identify with "couched in a kennel," because it is more likely that their dogs will be couched in their indoor beds not far from the beds of their human companions. Yet, earlier history had people keeping their dogs outside in the dog houses or "kennels."

Therefore, the speaker has observed that in their doghouses, these dogs are all silvered as they sleep "like a log." Happy silvered dogs, sleep peacefully outside in full view of any observer who might be taking a walk in the moonlight.

Fifth Couplet: Silvery Sleep

From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;

Nature offers many scenes for observation. The speaker then notes that even the doves can be seen in the silver of the moonlight. The breasts of the doves are "peep[ing] out from their shadowy cote." And like all the creatures of nature heretofore portrayed, the doves send forth the majestic beauty of the moon’s silver.

Sixth Couplet: Equal Opportunity in Silver

A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws, and silver eye;

The speaker then observes a harvest mouse. The mouse goes "scampering by." And of course, this harvest mouse, this rodent, possesses "silver claws, and silver eye." The speaker does not fail to note that even rodents are captured by the silvering of the moon.

The silvering of the moon offers equal opportunity: no one is left out, no one escapes it. Silver becomes the only descriptor of things as they parade through the moonlight. Thus, rinsed by silver moonlight, even the tiny harvest mouse becomes an important player in the scenario of the silver moonlight play. Those silver "shoon" splash far and wide.

Seventh Couplet: The Silvering of Fish in a Silver Stream

And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.

Having lived with fish in bodies of water in rivers, creeks, and lakes, I can attest to the silvering of fish in streams in moonlight. They do, in fact, "gleam" with the silver of the moonlight. They do, in fact, take their existence among the "reeds," as they swish through the waters, with the goal of continued existence, their way of glorifying their Creator in any way they can, at their evolutionary stage of existence.

This speaker has marvelously captured the wonderful silvering of things as they appear in the nighttime blessed with moon light upon them. As the moon has walked the night, she has invited those who have also observed such a scene to remember not the absence of golden light, but the intense presence of silver. Night with a big moon paints beauty as it silvers each object and enhances its stillness in loveliness.

Acknowledgment: Hooked on Poetry

Walter de la Mare’s "Silver" is the poem that is responsible for getting me hooked on poetry in high school. It was in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class that we read and studied this poem. Mrs. Pickett was a devout Shakespeare scholar, and she had a soft spot in her heart for all poetry.

As Mrs. Pickett explained the nature of poetry, she defined that form as a "crystallization" of thought and language. And the devotion that she felt for that form was clear and moving. From that point on, I have felt that I too possessed a motivating kinship with the form, and that relationship has grown deeper and broader over the years, since 1962, when I first studied literature in Mrs. Pickett's class.

Walter de la Mare Poster

Life Sketch of Walter de la Mare

Walter de la Mare is one of the most under-rated and under-appreciated poets in the Western world. His works yoke together the physical and spiritual levels of being in entertaining and enlightening ways.

Early Life and Ancestry

Sir Walter John Delamare was born in Kent, England, April 25, 1973. He disliked the 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.

Walter's mother, Lucy, was a Scot, and on his father's side the family descended from the French Huguenots. Walter later started using the original French spelling of his family name, "de la Mare," which he deemed more poetic.

Education and Work

After his education at St. Paul's Cathedral Choir School in London, 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 an annual government pension of $135.

This pension allowed him to leave the business world to spend his time on his creative writing, which he had already begun while in school, when he founded and edited a journal called The Choiristers’ Journal.

Publishing

De la Mare began publishing his writings in 1895 with his first short story, "Kismet." 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. In 1906, he published a collection simply titled, Poems. From this point on, he published poetry, short stories, novels, or essays virtually every year.

One of de la Mare's most successful collections of poetry is The Listeners, which 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.

De la Mare's 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 in August 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.

Elrida 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.

De la Mare's 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. He died on June 22, 1956. His ashes rest in a crypt at St. Paul's Cathedral, where the poet once served as a choirboy.

For more information about this poet, please the official site of the Walter de la Mare Society.

Questions & Answers

Question: Which figure of speech is used in the poem "Silver" by Walter de la Mare?

Answer: The moon is described metaphorically as a lady walking at night in silver shoes.

Question: What is the controlling metaphor in de la Mare's poem, "Silver"?

Answer: The metaphor of the moon as a person walking the landscape results in the controlling metaphor of personification.

Question: What is the meaning of "Silver" by Walter de la Mare?

Answer: The speaker is describing the beauty of the moon shining gloriously upon the landscape, bathing all with a marvelous sheen of silver.

Question: In the poem "Silver", what does the moon see on the trees?

Answer: In Walter de la Mare's "Silver," the moon "sees / Silver fruit upon silver trees."

Question: Are any similes used in the poem "Silver" by Walter de la Mare?

Answer: Yes, the fourth couplet contains the simile, "like a log": ""Couched in his kennel, like a log, / With paws of silver sleeps the dog."

Question: How do moonbeams transform the appearance of things on which they fall?

Answer: Moonbeams transform the appearance of objects by giving them a silvery glow.

Question: Which sound is more alliterated?

Answer: The sibilant sounds, “s” and “z,” are most prevalent in Walter de la Mare’s “Silver.”

Question: What is the mood in the poem, "Silver," by Walter de la Mare?

Answer: The mood of the poem is enthrallment through quiet appreciation of beauty.

Question: What is the moral of the poem "Silver"?

Answer: While a fable, such as Aesop's "The Fisherman & the Little Fish" http://read.gov/aesop/031.html, offers a "moral," most lyric poems do not. Thus, Walter de la Mare's "Silver" simply describes the beauty of a moonlit night.

Question: Why is the dog compared to a log in the poem, “Silver”?

Answer: Two reasons: 1. Allusion to the expression, Sleep like a log. 2. For the rime.

Question: What is the special feature of the poem, "Silver" by Walter de la Mare?

Answer: The special feature in this poem is that everything seems to be bathed in silver because of the moonlight.

Question: How does the moonwalk in the night in Walter De La Mare's "Silver"?

Answer: Metaphorically, in silver shoes.

Question: What is the central idea of the poem "Silver" by Walter de la Mare?

Answer: During daylight hours, sunlight reveals the creatures and things of the earth in its golden light that reveals many varied colors, while during the nighttime hours, moonlight offers a very different experience of seeing everything through the lens of silver.

Question: Where is the dog lying and how does the poet describe his paws?

Answer: The dog is sleeping in his dog house (kennel). His paws look like silver.

Question: What time of the day is described in Walter de la Mare's poem, "Silver"?

Answer: It is nighttime: "Slowly, silently now the moon / Walks the NIGHT . . . "

Question: How the poet open the poem?

Answer: The speaker begins by setting the scene of the moon slowly moving in silence upon the landscape. That moon is transforming the land in ways that one might not expect.

Question: Which type of poem is "Silver" by Walter de la Mare?

Answer: "Silver" is a lyric poem.

Question: What is the relevance of Walter de la Mare's "Silver"?

Answer: The poem shares the experience of beauty. Beauty is relevant to humankind's mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

Question: What is the tone of the poem, "Silver," by Walter de la Mare?

Answer: The tone of de la Mare's "Silver" is reflective even meditative.

Question: What is the rhyme scheme of the poem?

Answer: The rhyme scheme of Walter de la Mare's "Silver" is AABBCCDDEEFFGG; it is a sonnet played out in seven riming couplets.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error" at https://owlcation.com/humanities/Rhyme-vs-Rime-An-... . )

Question: How has the moon been imagined in Walter's poem "Silver"? What figure of speech is this?

Answer: The speaker employs a metaphoric personification of the moon as a silver slippered woman walking the landscape at night.

Question: How does the speaker describe the dog's paws in the poem, "Silver"?

Answer: In Walter de la Mare's "Silver," the speaker describes the dog's paw as "paws of silver."

Question: What does "Silver fruit upon silver trees" mean?

Answer: In Walter de la Mare's "Silver," the line "Silver fruit upon silver trees" describes what fruit on trees looks like in moonlight.

Question: How many figures of speech are there in Walter de la Mare's "Silver"?

Answer: In de la Mare's "Silver," there are three major figures of speech:

1. extended metaphor: “Silver” for moonlight

2. personification: “the moon / Walks the night in her silver shoon; / This way, and that, she peers, and sees”

3. simile: “like a log”

Question: What kind of poem is "Silver" by Walter de la Mare?

Answer: Walter de la Mare’s “Silver” plays out in an American sonnet (Innovative sonnet), composed of seven riming couplets.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error" at https://hubpages.com/humanities/Rhyme-vs-Rime-An-U...

Question: What word is repeated in the poem "Silver" by Walter de la Mare? Why would de la Mare have chosen to use repetition?

Answer: The word, "silver," is repeated because the poem, titled "Silver," describes the landscape in moonlight, which makes all things appear silver.

Question: Is silver meant to be considered surreal in the poem "Silver" by Walter de la Mare?

Answer: Not at all. All that lovely "silver" merely describes the serene beauty of a landscape bathed in moonlight.

Question: What is conclusion of Walter de la Mare's poem, "Silver"?

Answer: At night when the moon is brilliantly shining, the landscape and all things within it seem to be bathed in a silver glow.

Question: What is the most important thing about the rime scheme?

Answer: Walter de la Mare’s “Silver” is in an American or Innovative sonnet, composed of seven riming couplets.

Question: In Walter de la Mare's "Silver," why does the speaker personify the moon?

Answer: In Walter de la Mare's "Silver," the speaker, by personifying the moon as one who walks the landscape at night, is giving humanity back its experience of having seen that landscape and enjoyed it—perhaps without even realizing it at the time but still capturing it for future perusal in memory.

Question: What is the figure of speech in the line, "From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep"?

Answer: "[W]hite breasts" is a synecdoche.

Question: How are objects and animals transformed by the moonlight?

Answer: In Walter de la Mare's "Silver," objects and animals appear to be bathed in a silvery glow.

Question: Does the poem, "Silver", actually compare day and night?

Answer: Not exactly, however, as readers experience the poem, they automatically become aware that during daylight hours, sunlight reveals the creatures and things of the earth in its golden light that reveals many varied colors, while during the nighttime hours, moonlight offers a very different experience of seeing everything through the lens of silver.

Question: Where do you think the poet was when he wrote the poem, "Silver"?

Answer: I think he was sitting at his writing desk.

Question: Is Walter De La Mare an American poet?

Answer: Walter de la Mare is a British poet, born in Charlton, London, United Kingdom.

Question: What does "shoon" mean?

Answer: "Shoon" is the plural form for "shoe"--an archaic, dialectal form, not used very often any more even in Britain.

Question: What is happening in the poem "Silver" by Walter de la Mare?

Answer: The speaker is taking a walk, and the moon shines gloriously upon the landscape. The speaker is emotionally enthralled by the transition from daylight appearance to nightlight appearance. The sun shows us all one scenario, while the moon reveals quite another. The sense of sight is predominant during this rendering; one barely hears anything save perhaps the "scampering" of a "harvest mouse." The quiet beauty seems to swell the heart of the observer with tranquil appreciation.

Question: How has Walter De La Mare used language to show the effect of the moon?

Answer: The speaker begins by setting the scene of the moon slowly moving in silence upon the landscape. That moon is transforming the land in ways that one might not expect. In sunlight, the creatures of earth have come to expect the ability to see all things in a certain way, but in moonlight, all is changed, all is so very delightfully different. Instead of merely revealing the daylight consciousness experience of earthly creatures, the moon reveals a whole different scenario. The speaker portrays that difference by alerting the poem's audience that the moon is "walk[ing] the night," wearing "silver shoon." The British dialect that uses "shoon" for "shoes" effects a useful rime with "moon." A silver slippered moon is walking the landscape "slowly" but also "silently." Nighttime is a time for reflection, contemplation, meditation. And those who have observed the stillness of nighttime with the moon shining searchingly will attest to the serenity garnered from that quiet time of day: a time for still reflection and meditation on all that is beautiful, yet mysterious.

Question: What type of rime scheme does this poem have?

Answer: Walter de la Mare’s “Silver” plays out in an American sonnet (Innovative sonnet), composed of seven riming couplets.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error" at https://hubpages.com/humanities/Rhyme-vs-Rime-An-U...

Question: What is important about the poem, "Silver"?

Answer: Walter de la Mare's "Silver" remains important for its unique description of a moonlit landscape, a description that results in astounding beauty.

Question: What does the word cote mean in Walter De La Mare's poem, "Silver"?

Answer: A cote is a coop where birds are kept.

Question: What does the poem, "Silver", accomplish literarily?

Answer: This speaker has marvelously captured the wonderful silvering of things as they appear in the nighttime blessed with moonlight upon them. As the moon has walked the night, she has invited those who have also observed such a scene to remember not the absence of golden light, but the intense presence of silver. Night with a big moon paints beauty as it silvers each object and enhances its stillness in loveliness.

Question: How is the moon considered female?

Answer: The speaker refers to the moon as "she": "This way, and that, she peers, and sees / Silver fruit upon silver trees."

Question: What does "silver eye" mean in Walter de la Mare’s poem "Silver"?

Answer: The speaker is describing things as looking like silver. The "silver eye" of a harvest mouse is merely one object that looks silver in the moonlight.

Question: How many species are represented in Walter de la Mare's "Silver"?

Answer: Tree, dog, dove, mouse, fish--so five, unless you want to count the speaker.

Question: What are some of the things that appeared in the poem, "Silver," in the moon light?

Answer: The first 8 lines mention the following things: the moon, fruit, casements, a dog.

Question: What is the tone of Walter de la Mare’s poem, "Silver"?

Answer: The tone of Walter de la Mare's "Silver" is contemplative appreciation.

Question: Where do you think the poet was when he wrote the poem?

Answer: I think that he was sitting at his desk or writing table when he wrote the poem.

Question: What emotion is conveyed in this poem "Silver" by Walter de La Mare?

Answer: The speaker is emotionally enthralled by the transition from daylight appearance to nightlight appearance. One might describe that "emotion" as one of gratitude for the beauty that enthralls the mind and heart.

Question: In Walter de la Mare's "Silver," to what is the moon compared in the first four lines?

Answer: In the first four lines, indeed in the entire poem, of Walter de la Mare's "Silver," the moon is personified as a lady out walking in silver slippers that shine upon the landscape causing everything visible to don a silver glow.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on September 27, 2015:

Thank you, Glenis! It was the poem that attracted me poetry, more than 40 years ago. Always love it and return to it again and again. Blessings!

Glen Rix from UK on September 27, 2015:

I was not familiar with this beautiful poem. It is a delight to read it. Love the alliteration and the repetition. Thank you.

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