Week 105: The Children of Stare, by Walter de la Mare

The poetry of Walter de la Mare was once much in vogue, a vogue that lasted into my childhood, but then his reputation seemed to get swept away on a tide of modernism, meaning that the best he could hope for was a grudging ‘good of its kind, but we don’t want that kind any more, thank you very much’. Yet really the good of any kind in poetry is not so common that we can afford to throw it away. It is true that de la Mare’s work is perhaps best described as fey, and a little feyness goes a long way, but at his best he can be quite haunting. I don’t entirely understand what this poem is about, but I like the wintry atmosphere it evokes, which conjures up for me that hour of frosty dusk between coming home from school and teatime when I would play outside with my companions, not, it is true, in the grounds of a grand ancestral house, but in a scruffy but much-loved bit of waste land we called The Hedge.

The Children of Stare

Winter is fallen early
On the house of Stare;
Birds in reverberating flocks
Haunt its ancestral box;
Bright are the plenteous berries
In clusters on the air.

Still is the fountain’s music,
The dark pool icy still,
Whereupon a small and sanguine sun
Floats in a mirror on,
Into a West of crimson,
From a South of daffodil.

’Tis strange to see young children
In such a wintry house;
Like rabbits’ on the frozen snow
Their tell-tale footprints go;
Their laughter rings like timbrels
’Neath evening ominous:

Their small and heightened faces
Like wine-red winter buds;
Their frolic bodies gentle as
Flakes in the air that pass,
Frail as the twirling petal
From the briar of the woods.

Above them silence lours,
Still as an arctic sea;
Light fails; night falls; the wintry moon
Glitters; the crocus soon
Will open grey and distracted
On earth’s austerity:

Thick mystery, wild peril,
Law like an iron rod:-
Yet sport they on in Spring’s attire,
Each with his tiny fire
Blown to a core of ardour
By the awful breath of God.

Walter De La Mare


2 thoughts on “Week 105: The Children of Stare, by Walter de la Mare

  1. “Thick mystery, wild peril, / Law like an iron rod” – is there a curse on the house of Stare? Or perhaps the threat to the children is that they are “frail” yet continue to play outside as “silence lours” and “light fails”? They only have a “tiny fire” to protect them?

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