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Walter de La Mare

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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 the pursuit of the transcendent.

De la Mare's life was outwardly uneventful. As a youth he attended St. Paul's Cathedral School, and his formal education did not extend beyond this point. Upon graduation he went to work for the Anglo-American (Standard) Oil Company, remaining with the firm for eighteen years. De la Mare began writing short stories and poetry while working as a bookkeeper in the company's London office during the 1890s. His first published short story, "Kismet," appeared in the journal Sketch in 1895. In 1902 he published his first major work, the poetry collection Songs of Childhood, which was recognized as a significant example of children's literature for its creative imagery and variety of meters. Critics often assert that a childlike richness of imagination influenced everything de la Mare wrote, emphasizing his frequent depiction of childhood as a time of intuition, deep emotion, and closeness to spiritual truth. In 1908, following the publication of his novel Henry Brocken and the poetry collection titled Poems, de la Mare was granted a Civil List pension, enabling him to terminate his corporate employment and focus exclusively on writing. He died in 1956.

The appearance of Songs of Childhood introduced de la Mare as a talented author of children's literature, a genre in which he produced collections of fiction and verse, and several highly praised anthologies. Conrad Aiken, writing in his Scepticisms: Notes on Contemporary Poetry in 1919 found that de la Mare's Peacock Pie "contains some of the most delightful work he has done." The world of childhood, however, is only a facet of de la Mare's work.

As a poet de la Mare is often compared with Thomas Hardy and William Blake for their respective themes of mortality and visionary illumination. His greatest concern was the creation of a dreamlike tone implying a tangible but nonspecific transcendent reality. This characteristic of the poems has drawn many admirers, though also eliciting criticism that the poet indulged in an undefined sense of mystery without systematic acceptance of any specific doctrine. Some commentators also criticize the poetry for having an archness of tone more suitable for children's verse, while others value this playful quality. It is generally agreed, however, that de la Mare was a skillful manipulator of poetic structure, a skill which is particularly evident in the earlier collections.

With The Burning Glass and Other Poems critics perceived a falling off from the author's past artistic virtuosity, which afterward was only periodically regained. According to Henry Charles Duffin in his Walter de la Mare: A Study of His Poetry (1949), the "poetry of Walter de la Mare is not essentially either a criticism of life or (as some think it) an escape from life. It will fulfill both these functions for those who require them, but the primary end of de la Mare's poetry is to heighten life."

Closely linked with his poetry in theme and mood are de la Mare's short stories. Collections like The Riddle are imbued with the same indefiniteness and aura of fantasy as his poetry. In a review of The Connoisseur, and Other Stories, a critic for the Times Literary Supplement asserted in 1926 that "de la Mare has the poet's imagination, and it is a poetic emotion that delights us in his stories." Another favorable appraisal of de la Mare's short fiction came from John H. Wills, who wrote in the North Dakota Quarterly that "de la Mare is the most underrated short story writer in the English language." As a short story writer, de la Mare is frequently compared to Henry James, particularly for his elaborate prose style and his ambiguous, often obscure treatment of supernatural themes. This latter quality is particularly apparent in de la Mare's frequently discussed short story "The Riddle," in which seven children go to live with their grandmother after the death of their father. The grandmother warns the children that they may play anywhere in the house except in an old oak chest in one of the spare bedrooms. Nevertheless, the children are drawn by ones and twos to play in the trunk, where they mysteriously disappear. While the meaning of their disappearance remains enigmatic, commentators have generally interpreted the events as a symbolic presentation of aging and death.

The novels of de la Mare rival his poetry in importance. His early novels, such as Henry Brocken, are works of fantasy written in a genre traditionally reserved for realistic subjects. In his tale of supernatural possession, The Return, de la Mare deals with a primarily naturalistic world while maintaining a fantastic element as the thematic core. Even though it contains no fantasy in a strict sense, Memoirs of a Midget includes a strong ingredient of the unusual and is considered by many critics to be a masterpiece. Storm Jameson in the English Review called the novel "the most notable achievement in prose fiction of our generation," and J.C. Squire, in his Books Reviewed: Critical Essays on Books and Authors, judged Memoirs of a Midget "a poet's book. I can think of no prose book by an English poet which is a more substantial achievement." The definitive de la Mare novel, Memoirs is a study of the social and spiritual outsider, a concern central to the author's work.

For his extravagance of invention de la Mare is sometimes labelled an escapist who retreats from accepted definitions of reality and the relationships of conventional existence. His approach to reality, however, is not escapist; rather, it profoundly explores the world he considered most significant—that of the imagination. In the London Mercury J.B. Priestley favorably concluded in 1924 that de la Mare is "one of that most lovable order of artists who never lose sight of their childhood, but re-live it continually in their work and contrive to find expression for their maturity in it, memories and impressions, its romantic vision of the world."



  • Henry Brocken: His Travels and Adventures in the Rich, Strange, Scarce-Imaginable Regions of Romance (novel), J. Murray (London), 1904, Knopf (New York, NY), 1924.
  • The Return (novel), Arnold (London), 1910, Putnam (New York, NY), 1911, revised edition, Knopf, 1922.
  • Memoirs of a Midget (novel), Collins (London), 1921, Knopf, 1922.
  • Lispet, Lispett, and Vaine (short stories), Morland Press (London), 1923.
  • The Riddle, Selwyn & Blount (London), 1923, published as The Riddle and Other Tales, Knopf, 1923.
  • Ding Dong Bell (short stories), Knopf, 1924.
  • Two Tales: The Green-Room, The Connoisseur, Bookman's Journal (London), 1925.
  • The Connoisseur and Other Stories, Knopf, 1926.
  • At First Sight (short stories), Crosby Gaige (New York, NY), 1928.
  • On the Edge: Short Stories, wood engravings by Elizabeth Rivera, Faber (London), 1930, Knopf, 1931.
  • Seven Short Stories, illustrated by John Nash, Faber, 1931.
  • A Forward Child (short stories), Faber, 1934.
  • The Nap and Other Stories, Nelson (London), 1936.
  • The Wind Blows Over (short stories), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1936.
  • Ghost Stories, illustrated by Freedman, Folio Society (London), 1936.
  • The Picnic and Other Stories, Faber, 1941.
  • Best Stories of Walter de la Mare, Faber, 1942.
  • The Collected Tales of Walter de la Mare, edited by Edward Wagenknecht, Knopf, 1950.
  • A Beginning and Other Stories, Faber, 1955.
  • Best Stories, Faber, 1957.
  • Some Stories, Faber, 1962.
  • Eight Tales, Arkham House (Sauk City, WI), 1971.
  • Short Stories, 1895-1926, edited by Giles de la Mare, Giles de la Mare Publishers (London, England), 1996.


  • Poems, Murray, 1906.
  • The Listeners and Other Poems, Constable (London), 1912, Holt (New York, NY), 1916.
  • The Old Men, Flying Fame, 1913.
  • The Sunken Garden and Other Poems, Beaumont Press (London), 1917, also published as The Sunken Garden and Other Verses, Birmingham School of Printing (Birmingham), 1931.
  • Motley and Other Poems, Holt, 1918.
  • Flora, illustrated by Pamela Bianco, Lippincott, 1919.
  • Poems 1901 to 1918, two volumes, Constable, 1920, published as Collected Poems 1901 to 1918, two volumes, Holt, 1920.
  • The Veil and Other Poems, Constable, 1921, Holt, 1922.
  • Thus Her Tale: A Poem, illustrated by William Oglivie, Porpoise Press (Edinburgh), 1923.
  • A Ballad of Christmas, Selwyn & Blount, 1924.
  • The Hostage, Selwyn & Blount, 1925.
  • (With Rudyard Kipling) St. Andrews: Two Poems, A. & C. Black, 1926.
  • Walter de la Mare, edited by Edward Thompson, Benn (London), 1926.
  • Alone, wood engravings by Blair Hughes-Stanton, Faber & Gwyer (London), 1927.
  • Selected Poems, Holt, 1927.
  • The Captive and Other Poems, Bowling Green Press (New York, NY), 1928.
  • Self to Self, Faber, 1928.
  • A Snowdrop, illustrated by Claudia Guercio, Faber, 1929.
  • News, illustrated by Barnett Freedman, Faber, 1930.
  • To Lucy, illustrated by Albert Rutherston, Faber, 1931.
  • Two Poems, privately printed, 1931.
  • The Fleeting and Other Poems, Knopf, 1933.
  • Poems 1919 to 1934, Constable, 1935, Holt, 1936.
  • Poems, Corvinus Press, 1937.
  • Memory and Other Poems, Holt, 1938.
  • (With Arthur Rogers) Two Poems, privately printed, 1938.
  • Haunted: A Poem, Linden Press, 1939.
  • Collected Poems, Holt, 1941.
  • Time Passes and Other Poems, edited by Anne Ridler, Faber, 1942.
  • Collected Rhymes and Verse, illustrated by Berthold Wolpe, Faber, 1944, illustrated by Errol Le Cain.
  • The Burning-Glass, Viking Press (New York, NY), 1945, illustrated by John Piper, Faber, 1946.
  • The Traveller, Faber, 1946.
  • Two Poems: Pride, The Truth of Things, Dropmore Press, 1946.
  • Inward Companion, Faber, 1950.
  • Winged Chariot and Other Poems, Viking, 1951.
  • O Lovely England, and Other Poems, Faber, 1953, Viking, 1956.
  • Selected Poems, edited by R. N. Green-Armytage, Faber, 1954.
  • The Winnowing Dream, illustrated by Robin Jacques, Faber, 1954.
  • The Morrow, privately printed, 1955.
  • Collected Poems, illustrated by B. Wolpe, Faber, 1961.
  • Poems, edited by Eleanor Graham, illustrated by Margery Gill, Penguin, 1962.
  • Walter de la Mare, edited by John Hadfield, Vista Books, 1962.
  • A Choice of de la Mare's Verse, edited and with an introduction by W. H. Auden, Faber, 1963.
  • Envoi, privately printed, 1965.
  • The Complete Poems of Walter de la Mare, edited by Leonard Clark and others, Faber, 1969, Knopf, 1970.
  • The Collected Poems of Walter de la Mare, Faber, 1979.


  • M. E. Coleridge: An Appreciation, The Guardian, 1907.
  • Rupert Brooke and the Intellectual Imagination: A Lecture, Sidgwick & Jackson (London), 1919, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1920.
  • Some Thoughts on Reading (lecture), Yellowlands Press, 1923.
  • Some Women Novelists of the 'Seventies, Cambridge University Press, 1929.
  • (Editor) Desert Islands and Robinson Crusoe (literary quotations and discussion), illustrated by Rex Whistler, Fountain Press, 1930, revised edition, Faber, 1932.
  • (Editor) Christina Rossetti, Poems, Gregynog Press, 1930.
  • (Editor) The Eighteen-Eighties: Essays by Fellows of the Royal Society of Literature, Macmillan, 1930.
  • The Printing of Poetry (lecture), Cambridge University Press, 1931.
  • The Early Novels of Wilkie Collins, Cambridge University Press, 1932.
  • Lewis Carroll, Faber, 1932.
  • Early One Morning in the Spring: Chapters on Children and on Childhood as It Is Revealed in Particular in Early Memories and in Early Writings, Macmillan, 1935.
  • Poetry in Prose (lecture), H. Milford (London), 1935, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1937.
  • Arthur Thompson: A Memoir, privately printed, 1938.
  • An Introduction to Everyman, Dent (London), 1938.
  • (Editor) Behold, This Dreamer! (essays), Knopf, 1939.
  • Pleasures and Speculations (essays), Faber, 1940, Books for Libraries Press, 1969.
  • (Editor) Love, Faber, 1943, Morrow (New York, NY), 1946.
  • Private View (essays), Faber, 1953, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1979.


  • Stories, Essays, and Poems, edited by M. M. Bozman, Dent, 1938.
  • Walter de la Mare: A Selection from His Writings, edited by Kenneth Hopkins, Faber, 1956.
  • Secret Laughter, illustrated by Gill, Penguin, 1969.
  • (Author of poems) Richard Rodney Bennett, Dream-Songs: For Unison Voices or Solo Voice and Piano, Novello (London, England), 1990.


  • (Under pseudonym Walter Ramal) Songs of Childhood (poetry), Longmans Green (London and New York City), 1902, reprinted by Garland, 1976, revised edition (published under name Walter de la Mare), Longman, 1916, new edition published as Songs of Childhood, illustrated by Estella Canziani, 1923 , illustrated by Marion Rivers-Moore, Faber, 1956.
  • The Three Mulla-Mulgars (fiction), illustrated by J. R. Monsell, Duckworth (London), 1910, illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop, Knopf, 1919, illustrated by J. A. Shepherd, Selwyn & Blount, 1924, published as The Three Royal Monkeys, illustrated by Mildred E. Eldridge, Faber, 1969.
  • A Child's Day (poetry), illustrated by Carine Cadby and Will Cadby, Constable, 1912, illustrated by Winifred Bromhall, Holt, 1923.
  • Peacock Pie (poetry), Constable, 1913, illustrated by W. Heath Robinson, 1916, illustrated by Jocelyn Crow, Holt, 1936, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone, Faber, 1946, illustrated by Barbara Cooney, Knopf, 1961, revised edition, Faber, 1969, 1st American edition published by H. Holt (New York, NY), 1989.
  • Story and Rhyme (fiction), Dutton (New York, NY), 1921.
  • Crossings: A Fairy Play, music by Cecil Armstrong Gibbs, illustrated by Randolph Schwabe (produced by Hove, Sussex, 1919, London, 1925), Beaumont Press, 1921, illustrated by Lathrop, Knopf, 1923, illustrated by Gwendolen Raverat, Faber, 1942.
  • Down-Adown-Derry (poetry), illustrated by Lathrop, Holt, 1922.
  • (Editor with Alec Buckels) Come Hither, illustrated by Buckels, Knopf, 1923, revised edition, 1928.
  • 1925-28(Editor with Thomas Quayle) Readings: Traditional Tales Told by the Author, illustrated by A. H. Watson and C. T. Nightingale, six volumes, Blackwell (Oxford), one volume, Knopf, 1927.
  • Broomsticks and Other Tales (fiction), illustrated by Bold, Knopf, 1925.
  • Miss Jemima (fiction), illustrated by Buckels, Basil Blackwell, 1925, Artists and Writers Guild (Poughkeepsie, NY), 1935, published as The Story of Miss Jemima, illustrated by Nellie H. Farnam, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1940.
  • (With others) Number Three Joy Street, Appleton (New York City), 1925.
  • (With others) Number Four Joy Street, Appleton, 1926.
  • (With others) Number Five Joy Street, Appleton, 1927.
  • Lucy, illustrated by Hilda T. Miller, Basil Blackwell, 1927.
  • Old Joe (fiction), illustrated by Nightingale, Basil Blackwell, 1927.
  • Stuff and Nonsense and So On (poetry), woodcuts by Bold, Holt, 1927, revised edition, Faber, 1946, illustrated by Margaret Wolpe, Faber, 1957.
  • Told Again: Traditional Tales, illustrated by A. H. Watson, Blackwell, 1927, published as Told Again: Old Tales Told Again, Knopf, 1927, published as Tales Told Again, illustrated by Alan Howard, Faber/Knopf, 1959.
  • (With others) Number Six Joy Street, Appleton, 1928.
  • Stories from the Bible, illustrated by Theodore Nadejen, Cosmopolitan, (New York City) 1929, illustrated by Hawkins, Faber, 1947, illustrated by Ardizzone, Knopf, 1961, reprinted, 1977.
  • Poems for Children, Holt, 1930.
  • The Dutch Cheese and the Lovely Myfanwy (fiction), illustrated by Lathrop, Knopf, 1931, illustrated by Hawkins, Faber, 1946.
  • (Editor) Tom Tiddler's Ground: A Book of Poetry for the Junior and Middle Schools, illustrations from Thomas Bewick, three volumes, Collins, 1931, illustrated by Margery Gill, one volume, Knopf, 1962.
  • (Editor) Old Rhymes and New, Chosen for Use in Schools, two volumes, Constable, 1932.
  • The Lord Fish and Other Tales (fiction), illustrated by Rex Whistler, Faber, 1933, 1st U.S. edition published by Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1997.
  • Letters from Mr. Walter de la Mare to Form Three, privately printed, 1936.
  • (With Harold Jones) This Year: Next Year (poetry), illustrated by Jones, Holt, 1937.
  • Animal Stories, Chosen, Arranged, and in Some Part Re-Written, Faber, 1939, Scribner (New York, NY), 1940.
  • Bells and Grass: A Book of Rhymes, illustrated by F. Rowland Emett, Faber, 1941, illustrated by Lathrop, Viking, 1942.
  • The Old Lion and Other Stories (fiction), illustrated by Irene Hawkins, Faber, 1942.
  • Mr. Bumps and His Monkey (fiction), illustrated by Lathrop, J. C. Winston (Philadelphia), 1942.
  • The Magic Jacket, and Other Stories, illustrated by Hawkins, Faber, 1943, illustrated by Paul Kennedy, Knopf, 1962.
  • The Scarecrow and Other Stories, illustrated by Hawkins, Faber, 1945.
  • The Dutch Cheese and Other Stories, illustrated by Hawkins, Faber, 1946.
  • Collected Stories for Children, illustrated by Hawkins, Faber, 1947, illustrated by Jacques, 1967.
  • Rhymes and Verses: Collected Poems for Children, illustrated by Elinore Blaisdell, Holt, 1947.
  • Dick Whittington (adapted from a story appearing in Told Again), illustrated by Ionicus, Hulton, 1951.
  • Jack and the Beanstalk (adapted from a story appearing in Told Again), illustrated by William and Brenda Stobbs, Hulton, 1951.
  • Selected Stories and Verses, edited by Eleanor Graham, Penguin, 1952.
  • The Story of Joseph, illustrated by Ardizzone, Faber, 1958.
  • The Story of Moses, illustrated by Ardizzone, Knopf, 1960.
  • The Story of Samuel and Saul, illustrated by Ardizzone, Faber, 1960.
  • A Penny a Day (fiction), illustrated by Kennedy, Knopf, 1960.
  • Molly Whuppie, illustrated by Errol Le Cain, Straus, 1983.
  • The Voice: A Sequence of Poems, edited and illustrated by Catherine Brighton, Faber, 1986, Delacorte, 1987.
  • Visitors, Creative Education, 1986.
  • The Three Sillies, Creative Education (Mankato, MN), 1991.
  • The Turnip, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, D. R. Godine (Boston, MA), 1992.

Further Readings


  • Aiken, Conrad, Scepticisms: Notes on Contemporary Poetry, Knopf, 1919; reprinted by Books for Libraries Press, 1967, pp. 206-215.
  • Atkins, John, Walter de la Mare: An Exploration, C. & J. Temple, 1947.
  • Avery, Gillian and Julia Briggs, Children and Their Books: A Celebration of the Work of Iona and Peter Opie, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1989, pp. 337-349.
  • Brain, Russell, Tea with Walter de la Mare, Faber, 1957.
  • Brenner, Rica, Ten Modern Poets, Harcourt, 1930, pp. 161-172.
  • Briggs, Julia, Night Visitors, Faber, 1977, pp. 182-195.
  • Cecil, David, The Fine Art of Reading and Other Literary Studies, Bobbs-Merrill, 1957, pp. 219-230.
  • Child, Harold, Essays and Reflections, Cambridge University Press, 1948, pp. 20-29.
  • Clark, Leonard, Walter de La Mare: A Checklist, Cambridge University Press, 1956.
  • Clark, Leonard, Walter de la Mare, Bodley Head, 1960, pp. 54-71.
  • Davison, Edward, Some Modern Poets and Other Critical Essays, Harper, 1928, pp. 113-140.
  • Duffin, Henry Charles, Walter de la Mare: A Study of His Poetry, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1949.
  • Ford, B., editor, The Pelican Guide to English Literature, Volume 7: The Modern Age, Penguin, 1961, pp. 138-153.
  • Freeman, John, English Portraits and Essays, Hodder & Stoughton, 1924, pp. 87-114.
  • Gosse, Edmund, Books on the Table, Scribner, 1921, pp. 311-317.
  • Greene, Graham, Collected Essays, Viking, 1969, pp. 141-148.
  • Hopkins, Kenneth, Walter de la Mare, Longmans, Green, 1953, revised edition, British Council, 1957.
  • Jarrell, Randall, Poetry and the Age, Knopf, 1953, pp. 149-153.
  • Leavis, F.R., New Bearings in English Poetry, Chatto & Windus, 1932, new edition, 1950, pp. 50-56.
  • McCrosson, Doris Ross, Walter de la Mare, Twayne, 1966.
  • Megroz, R.L., Walter de la Mare: A Biographical and Critical Study, Hodder & Stoughton, 1924.
  • Megroz, R.L., Five Novelist Poets of To-Day, Joiner & Steele, 1933, pp. 19-58.
  • Muir, Edwin, The Present Age from 1914, Cresset, 1939, pp. 99-101.
  • Murry, J. Middleton, Countries of the Mind, Collins, 1922, pp. 127-142.
  • Penzoldt, Peter, The Supernatural in Fiction, Peter Nevill, 1952, pp. 203-227.
  • Perkins, David, A History of Modern Poetry, Volume 1, Harvard University Press, pp. 179-191.
  • Priestley, J.B., Figures in Modern Literature, John Lane/Bodley Head, 1924, pp. 31-54.
  • Punter, David, The Literature of Terror: A History of Gothic Fictions from 1765 to the Present Day, Longman, 1980, pp. 291-313.
  • Reid, Forrest, Walter de la Mare: A Critical Study, Holt, 1929.
  • Richards, I.A., Science and Poetry, Kegan Paul, Trench & Trubner, 1926, pp. 70-72.
  • Schmidt, Michael, A Reader's Guide to Fifty Modern British Poets, Barnes & Noble, 1979, pp. 64-68.
  • Shanks, Edward, First Essays on Literature, W. Collins Sons, 1923, pp. 68-85.
  • Squire, J. C., Books Reviewed: Critical Essays on Books and Authors, Doran, 1922, reprinted by Kennikat Press, 1968, pp. 136-143.
  • Swinnerton, Frank, Figures in the Foreground, Hutchinson, 1963, pp. 203-206.
  • Tribute to Walter de la Mare on His Seventy-Fifth Birthday, Faber, 1948.
  • Walsh, William, The Use of Imagination, Chatto & Windus, 1959, pp. 174-182.
  • Wagenknecht, Edward, Cavalcade of the English Novel: From Elizabeth to George VI, Holt, 1948, pp. 533-546.
  • Williams, Charles, Poetry at Present, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1930, pp. 82-95.


  • Anglia, 1972, pp. 355-360.
  • Ariel: A Review of International English Literature, 1970, pp. 29-38.
  • Boston University Studies in English, winter, 1955.
  • College English, November, 1949, pp. 72-80.
  • Contemporary Review, August, 1956, pp. 70-73.
  • Denver Quarterly, autumn, 1973, pp. 69-81.
  • Encounter, 1956, pp. 38-46.
  • English, 1957, pp. 129-133.
  • English Review, May, 1922, pp. 424-430.
  • Fortnightly Review, July, 1932, pp. 47-53.
  • London Mercury, May, 1924, pp. 33-43.
  • Nation (New York, NY), April 1, 1931, p. 356.
  • Nation and Athenaeum, October 11, 1930, pp. 54, 56.
  • New Republic, January 31, 1976, pp. 31-33.
  • New Statesman, December 23, 1922, pp. 356-357; May 26, 1923, p. 201; December 12, 1925, pp. 273-274; July 3, 1926, pp. 328-329; October 11, 1930, pp. vi, viii; March 13, 1970, pp. 368-369.
  • North Dakota Quarterly, autumn, 1964, pp. 85-92.
  • Poetry, July, 1952, pp. 213-32.
  • Poetry Review, 1933, pp. 83-95.
  • Proceedings of the British Academy, 1953, pp. 23-36.
  • Spectator, October 29, 1910, pp. 698-699.
  • Studies in Bibliography, 1954, pp. 192-217; 1956, pp. 269-70.
  • Times Literary Supplement, June 17, 1926, p. 412; August 1, 1936, pp. 621-622; October 14, 1955, pp. 597-599; March 12, 1970, pp. 281-282.
  • University of Toronto Quarterly, 1957, pp. 109-121.

Walter de La Mare

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