I’ve been working on Walter de la Mare’s essay collection Pleasures and Speculations (Faber, 1940) and comparing the subjects within it to the books he annotated in his working library. I’m largely focusing on his poetry collections at the moment, for a paper I am giving at the Writers and their Libraries conference in March, but I’ve been dipping into his natural history and gardening books too. For de la Mare, flowers and poetry were linked:
No collection of English verse on the theme of poetry of flowers could fail to include many flowers of poetry. The very phrase recalls the Garland of Melager – prototype of all anthologies – of precisely two thousand years ago. Mealeager’s title, however, was metaphorical; he had art and not nature in view; the loveliest poems of his age. (Walter de la Mare, ‘Flowers and Poetry’. In Pleasures and Speculations (Faber, 1940), p. 200.
Plants and flowers feature frequently in de la Mare’s own verse, as for example in ‘The Sunken Garden’ (The Sunken Garden and Other Poems, Beaumont Press, 1917), which begins with a litany of herbs:
Speak not — whisper not;
Here bloweth thyme and bergamot;
Softly on the evening hour,
Secret herbs their spices shower,
Dark-spiked rosemary and myrrh,
Lean-stalked, purple lavender;
Hides within her bosom, too,
All her sorrows, bitter rue.
It was interesting, but not surprising to find him annotating one of the plant lists in Eleanour Sinclair Rohde’s Old English Gardening Books (Martin Hopkinson, 1924; [WdlM] 321): on p. 98 in a list ‘From A Most Briefe and pleasaunt treatise teachynge howe to dress, sowe and set a Garden. By Thomas Hyll. (1563)‘ he has placed ticks against “Lettis. | Endive. | Bleet.”; crosses against “Violet. | Roses. | Carnation.| Petilius. [also marked "(?)"] | Orache. [also annotated "(Mountain Spinach)" | Navew. [also annotated "(Bargeman's Spinach)"]“; and dashes against “Mallowes. | … Alisander. [also annotated "('Black Pot-Herb')" | ... Rue. | Tyme. | Organny. [also annotated "
(Marjoram) | (Pulling grass | or Penny Royal)". "Sperage." is annotated "(Asparagus)" and "Savery." is translated to "(Mint)".
The dates of publication of 'The Sunken Garden" and Sinclair Rohde's book highlight that annotations are sometimes used by authors to mark pages that chime with things they have already written - in this case we can see they reflect an ongoing preoccupation of de la Mare and one of the 'pleasures' he covers in Pleasures and Speculations.
The book also features seasonal and butterfly poems that de la Mare has marked and listed, including one long passage from Spenser. Which seems like a very good reason to revisit The Faerie Queene (my own old battered university paperback and [WdlM] 382) over Christmas.
Image: Walter de la Mare (Creative Commons, limited non-commercial use)
by Lady Ottoline Morrell
vintage snapshot print, 1936
2 5/8 in. x 3 in. (68 mm x 75 mm) image size
Purchased with help from the Friends of the National Libraries and the Dame Helen Gardner Bequest, 2003