Peacock Pie: A Book of Rhymes by Walter de la Mare
|Peacock Pie: A Book of Rhymes by Walter de la Mare|
|Category: Children's Rhymes and Verse|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A wide-ranging spread of titles in this poetry anthology, that still sells the modern reader unfortunately short.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 224||Date: January 2015|
|Publisher: Faber and Faber|
It was a surprise for me to read online that Walter de la Mare spent so much of his life in and around London – born at least in what is now the borough of Greenwich, passing away in Twickenham. The reason I say this is that out of the copious poems collected here, it's as if cities don't exist. Hardly anything of the subjects is manmade. The concentration is fully on the idyllic and pastoral, and in following on so closely in the footsteps of his debut collection, Songs of Childhood from 1902, still very, very much Victorian.
And that's one of the problems this book will have these days. I know his ethos is an estimable one, that of engaging with the youthful imagination through portraying their wonder at the natural world and interaction with it, but I can't see it travelling to many in this day and age. What's more there's his style – a bluntly regular rhyming scheme that he forces on to the page at the expense of meter more than once.
Beyond that too is the length of these works. The fact there are so many is down to them often being so short, and that raises another problem. While a poem should convey a moment, one event, a single emotion or feeling, and it's perfectly OK for one to have that left hanging for the reader to drop onto proceedings after the words are over, too often here the situation is aroused, the verse goes ABABCDCD and then we stop. Too much is blunt, too flippant, too much like my own doggerel (he said immodestly) for me to think that much of it.
This reads a little like a greatest hits collection – there are much later, more wide-reaching anthologies if that is what you seek, however – especially when we eventually break away from the routine looks at ancient and wooded subjects and look at the mystical, but even then things are raised then dropped like hot potatoes, even subjects such as changeling children. Works such as 'The Old Stone House' can convey a full finished product, but before that you get a heck of a lot of one-page, two- or three-verse works that introduce characters and rhyme about them, to little effect. So someone has chickens – big deal. There's a chimney sweep, and – well, and nothing. The longer works (such as the first here, with a sailing ship crewed by monkeys) are generally all I will remember this work for, even if something like Lear's Limericks are much shorter, equally antiquated and silly, and yet more satisfying. I may well be alone in my assumption, but on this evidence I have to see de la Mare's as a most diminished reputation.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
A is Amazing!: Poems about Feelings by Wendy Cooling and Piet Grobler is something much more fresh and appealing, to my mind.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Peacock Pie: A Book of Rhymes by Walter de la Mare at Amazon.com.
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