Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Winged Chariot

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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