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Walter de la Mare’s "Silver"

Updated on December 11, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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

Walter de la Mare

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "Silver"

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.")

The speaker is taking a walk, and the moon shines gloriously upon the landscape. The speaker is enthralled by the transition from daylight appearance to nightlight appearance. The sun shows us all one scenario, while the moon reveals quite another.

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

First Couplet: The Moon Informs the Night

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

The speaker begins by setting the scene of the moon slowly and silently moving upon the land. That moon will transform 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 listener/reader of his poem 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 the all that is holy.

Second Couplet: The Moon Walking and 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.

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.

We all know 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 become the only descriptor of things as they parade through the moonlight.

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.

Acknowledgement: 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 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 the devotion that she felt for that from 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.

Biographical 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.

His 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.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

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    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image
      Author

      Linda Sue Grimes 2 years ago from U.S.A.

      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!

    • Glenis Rix profile image

      GlenR 2 years ago from UK

      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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