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Tony Grist

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Winged Chariot [Jun. 10th, 2010|12:09 pm]
Tony Grist
My copy of Winged Chariot arrived. Although not advertised as such, it turns out to be a first edition. It's not in mint condition, but still has its dust jacket. It might even be the copy I once sold come back to me; stranger things have happened.

It is- forget the contents for a moment- a very beautiful book. I'm no expert on paper- but the paper used here is clearly of a very high quality - made from rags perhaps- with a coarse, tactile weave and an intrinsic, delicious, musky odour. I suspect- if stored in kindly conditions- it would last for a thousand years.

There is a vignette wood cut by the great Joan Hassall.

Winged Chariot was published in 1951 (the year of my birth, incidentally)  by which time de la Mare- always an anomaly, and hard to place- was outrageously out of step with his times (though his publisher- and champion- at Faber was none other than T.S. Eliot).  He remains unfashionable- and is remembered- if at all- for The Listeners and one or two other magical, nursery favourites- not for this.

But it's a wonderful poem- in my considered view the most beautiful poem published in the second half of the 20th century. De la Mare had a gift- an unequalled gift- for arranging words- simple, hackneyed, even shop-soiled words- the words every poetaster overuses- so that they sing in consort.  Mainly he wrote lyrics. This is a sustained lyric- remorselessly lovely- otherworldly- the work of a great poet who in old age pines (to quote himself) 

                                                                "to skirt the infinite; 
                       As birds sing wildlier as it draws towards night."
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: steepholm
2010-06-10 11:28 am (UTC)
You've sold it to me! I was turned on to de la Mare by reading Susan Cooper's encomium of his anthology Come Hither, with its magical introduction and inexhaustibly intriguing notes, but I'd not ever heard of this.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-06-10 11:51 am (UTC)
Come Hither is glorious. He had the same faultless, unerring taste when it came to assembling anthologies as he did when marshalling words into lines of verse.

All his anthologies- though constructed out of other people's work- are unmistakeably de la Mareian- shot through and through with his distinctive aesthetic, his distinctive charm.

Have you read any of his ghost stories? I think you'd like them. My favourite is Seaton's Aunt.
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[User Picture]From: steepholm
2010-06-10 01:20 pm (UTC)
I've read some of his ghost stories, but a long time ago, when I was ploughing through M. R. James and E. F. Benson, etc. I'm not sure if I've come across that one.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-06-10 01:53 pm (UTC)
It's a good'un- all implication and suggestion- rather in the manner of Henry James- but even more ambiguous.
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[User Picture]From: steepholm
2010-06-10 04:50 pm (UTC)
I've now ordered my winged chariot (as Elijah liked to say at the end of a long evening)! I suspect the first edition may be the only edition, alas - but it's still pretty cheap!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-06-10 06:19 pm (UTC)
Excellent!

I'm afraid you're probably right about it only making one edition.
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[User Picture]From: aellia
2010-06-10 11:42 am (UTC)
How lovely!
I like the word "wildlier".
x
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-06-10 11:51 am (UTC)
The right word in the right place. De la Mare was an absolute master of language.
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[User Picture]From: jenny_evergreen
2010-06-10 12:22 pm (UTC)
You've sold me, too!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-06-10 12:30 pm (UTC)
Very good. I want the world to go out and rediscover de la Mare.
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[User Picture]From: nineweaving
2010-06-10 06:33 pm (UTC)
Oh, how beautiful!

I'm very fond of Come Hither, and of his prose collections, Early One Morning in the Spring and Behold This Dreamer.

I forget which eminent critic (negothick would know) who predicted at mid-century that the quintessential novel of the 20th century, the crowning moment of its literature, would be--not Ulysses, not Lolita, but Memoirs of a Midget. How times have changed!

Nine
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[User Picture]From: nineweaving
2010-06-10 07:12 pm (UTC)
It was Edward Wagenknecht.

Nine
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-06-10 07:36 pm (UTC)
I own a copy of Memoirs of a Midget- But I've never read it. This really needs to be rectified.
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[User Picture]From: nineweaving
2010-06-10 07:57 pm (UTC)
It's a queer, unsettling book.

Nine
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[User Picture]From: ibid
2010-06-12 08:13 am (UTC)
Mum's always going on about him but you've convinced me!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-06-12 08:25 am (UTC)
He used to be a favourite primary school poet- but there's much, much more to him than that.
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