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    WHEN Susan's work was done, she'd sit
    With one fat guttering candle lit,
    And window opened wide to win
    The sweet night air to enter in;
    There, with a thumb to keep her place
    She'd read, with stern and wrinkled face.
    Her mild eyes gliding very slow
    Across the letters to and fro,
    While wagged the guttering candle flame
    In the wind that through the window came.
    And sometimes in the silence she
    Would mumble a sentence audibly,
    Or shake her head as if to say,
    "You silly souls, to act this way!"
    And never a sound from night I'd hear,
    Unless some far-off cock crowed clear;
    Or her old shuffling thumb should turn
    Another page; and rapt and stern,
    Through her great glasses bent on me,
    She'd glance into reality;
    And shake her round old silvery head,
    With--"You!--I thought you was in bed!"--
    Only to tilt her book again,
    And rooted in Romance remain.

    Walter de la Mare (1873- 1956)

Sir Walter John de la Mare was born on April 25, 1873, in Charlton, Kent, England and was quite successful as an author as well as a critic and and editor. Mostly remembered for his stories and a single novel dealing with the supernatural. Though he he is not often reprinted today he enjoys a revival from time to time.

In a review, de la Mare explains best in his own words how he thought a horror tale should be written.

"The spinning of a consummate tale of the supernatural requires a peculiar kind of absorption and a nimble and vigilant pen," ........"The reader's imagination . . . must be furtively quickened by a series of almost imperceptible hints, decoys, innuendoes, into a peculiar sensitiveness . . . Our journey over the borderland and into that stagnant, electric, sinister atmosphere must be as quiet and gradual as the coming on of night. As quiet and gradual must be our ultimate exit into the common air . . . When the story is at its proper dusk, and the footlights burn murky, and the pupils of the writer's (and the reader's) eyes resemble a cat's in the small hours, precisely the right kind of characters must be in alarmed or stealthy movement on the stage . . . "

Published in 1912 in a collection called The Listeners and Other Poems, de la Mare sets the scene and builds drama around Old Susan. His clever use of technique in the last line causes the reader to stumble around the reading of it, awkward and jutting it's strikingly memorable. Using alliteration with the repetition of the letter r the poet follows up by the breaking meter of the poem, until the end, the poem as been predominantly iambic, in places metronomically so .....

There, with a thumb to keep her place
She'd read, and with stern and wrinkled face
Her mild eyes gliding very slow
Across the letters to and fro . . . .

...with a few dactyls thrown in for good measure saving the last line as wholly and memorably dactylic. Creating a stage where it's almost impossible to not be impressed by details Susan, of her charge, or even of the book she is reading.


Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:

Walter de la Mare:
acessed August 24, 2003

CST Approved

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