Saturday, 30 July 2022

THE OLD ENCHANTER. by Patricia Cleveland-Peck

      When I feel my imagination needs a jolt I sometimes pay a visit to Walter de la Mare. Often reading just one short story or poem is sufficient to give me a bit of creative oomph. He is rather a neglected, out-of-fashion writer but I never tire of him - and I am in good company. Robert Frost and Edward Thomas were friends and admirers and T.S Eliot said of his works that hey allowed 'free passage to the phantoms of the mind.'

      De la Mare often returned to the subject of children and childhood and indeed many of his poems were written for children. I should be interested to know whether children nowadays know his poems. I have a feeling they don't but I hope I am wrong because the musicality of his language coupled with his idiosyncratic subject matter; deserted houses, travellers, spells, the moon, owl cries, fairies, ghosts et al make reading or listening to his poems a truly singular experience.

     Peacock Pie came out as a collection for children and some of his poems such as The Bees Song, buzzing with alliteration, are clearly designed to appeal to youngsters but many of his other poems could as well be for adults. In fact a number of them are deeply unsettling.

Here's one of them I'd like to share with you.


From his cradle in the glamourie

They have stolen my wee brother, 

Housed a changeling in his swaddlings

for to fret my own poor mother.

Pules it in the candlelight

Wi' a cheek so lean and white

Chinckling up its eyne so wee

Wailing shrill at her an' me.

It we'll neither rock nor tend

Till the Silent Silent send,

Lapping in their waesome arms

Him they stole with spells and charms,

Till they take this changeling creature

Back to its fairy nature -

Cry! Cry! As long as maybe

Ye shall ne'er be a woman's baby.

   Some of the words are Old Scots. Are they even genuine? They are but it wouldn't matter it they weren't. De la Mare makes up lots of words. These may not be familiar but they add to the general strangeness of the scene while at no time preventing us from grasping the situation.

    We see the changeling, always referred to as 'it', lying lean and white, its eyes 'clinkled up' in the candle light. We hear it 'puling ' a shrill wail which will go unattended until the 'Silent Silent' bring the narrator's sibling back. The Silent are Scottish hill fairies and maybe doubling them up just makes them twice as scarey, seeing as the first 'Silent' doesn't seem to be an adjective...We feel all this plus a tinge of scepticism. What if they are wrong?

     There, the old enchanter has done it again! In a few. lines he has evoked his strange and disconcerting world and taken my imagination there on a visit

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