My winding path to the key.

gl P1050286One thing leads to another. I had the sudden and unusual urge to clean my shower door this morning, and ended up spending hours on the bathroom, the bedroom, the laundry area in the garage…. I made myself stop at six o’clock so I could take a walk, which was a more of a chore than some evenings, because I had already been on my feet most of the day.

Even so, I didn’t want to take the shortcut, because the sight of the slant rays through the redwood trees at the park is not to be missed. This is where my children played soccer and softball, and climbed those trees, before they were trimmed of their lower branches. I like experiencing the park this way more than the former version, when we used to stand around shivering on the damp sidelines to watch an hour of soccer.

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But getting back to earlier in the day: Before indulging in the flurry of vacuuming and scrubbing, I had followed other, quieter prompts, in the realm of poetry. I was reading some recommendations for anthologies, when the collection Come Hither showed up on my mental path. This was probably the first book of poetry I ever bought. We were homeschooling and I had borrowed Walter de la Mare’s anthology from the library. But I couldn’t renew it forever, and it was clearly a book that one would like to delve into forever. So I splurged on a copy of our own, and my students would leaf through its pages week by week to find an appealing poem to memorize.

Walter de la Mare
Walter de la Mare

In the last months I had forgotten about this book; I knew it was in the spare bedroom on a shelf full of poetry books, and I made a note to myself to get it down and enjoy it again. After this evening’s walk I did that, but I had to limit myself to reading only the first poem, so that I will get to bed at a reasonable hour tonight. I also discovered a wonderful article by David M. Whalen, about the anthology and its editor: “Walter de la Mare’s Come Hither.”

He explains the frontispiece address to the “Young of All Ages”: “Anthologies of children’s verse usually fall into sentimentality. They reflect their editors’ attempts at indulgence in feelings that have become unreal to editors and readers both. Come Hither: A Collection of Rhymes and Poems for the Young of All Ages is markedly free of this blot as de la Mare, a Twentieth-Century British poet and author, never left behind the numinous sense of mystery that characterizes childhood.”

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British author Alice Thomas Ellis is quoted in the article as saying that if she could have the Bible and Shakespeare and one other book, when stranded on a desert island, the third book would be Come Hither. The copious notes alone I find fascinating; they are obviously written with the older and even oldest Young in mind, and they lead me always to one more musing .

Here is that first poem of the collection. As the turning of the page will reveal a different offering, and another following that, I feel certain that I will have more to share with you in the future. But as Whalen points out, this one poem already contains everything.

THIS IS THE KEY

This is the Key of the Kingdom
In that Kingdom is a city;
In that city is a town;
In that town there is a street;
In that street there winds a lane;
In that lane there is a yard;
In that yard there is a house;
In that house there waits a room;
In that room an empty bed;
And on that bed a basket–
A Basket of Sweet Flowers
Of Flowers, of Flowers;
A Basket of Sweet Flowers.

Flowers in a Basket;
Basket on the bed;
Bed in the chamber;
Chamber in the house;
House in the weedy yard;
Yard in the winding lane;
Lane in the broad street;
Street in the high town;
Town in the city;
City in the Kingdom–
This is the Key of the Kingdom.
Of the Kingdom this is the Key.

10 thoughts on “My winding path to the key.

  1. Mr. de la Mare wrote this before the “advantage” of “google earth” and he zoomed in so smoothly and the back out again…but of course he sweetly alluded to a great beyond and a great within in his macro and micro views…google earth never gets that part.

    Do you ever write poetry?

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  2. Heh – always dangerous to start housework! one clean thing shows up the next thing that needs attention… Hm, is this a metaphor for other parts of our lives as well… I’m glad to see that Come Hither is available, though incorporeally, on archive.org, so I can join you in exploring it while continuing to reduce the load on my bookshelves. Alice Thomas Ellis’ episode of Desert Island Discs is also online, and audio should, I think, be available internationally: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00943g9

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    1. Thank you, Albert! I hadn’t read this before, nor thought about the question of what poetry is from this angle of reader vs. poet. Lewis really does open up the playing field, doesn’t he…. and he gives me the liberty to enjoy the poems that I do, and not worry about the ones that don’t “interest” me, as though I’m not taking up my proper burden and am guilty of something. It doesn’t seem that enough people who write poetry have heard or heeded Lewis’s warning: “Unless he speedily returns to the workmanlike humility of his great predecessors and submits to the necessity of interesting and pleasing as a preliminary to doing anything else….”

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