Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gettin' Down-ADown-Derry With Walter de la Mare & Dorothy Lathrop

by Stephen J. Gertz

"What are the salient characteristics of childhood? Children, it will be agreed, live in a world peculiarly their own, so much so that it is doubtful if the adult can do more than very fleetingly reoccupy that far-away consciousness. There is, however, no doubt that the world of the grown-up is to children an inexhaustible astonishment and despair. They brood on us. And perhaps it is well that we are not invited to their pow-wows, until, at any rate, the hatchet for the hundredth time is re-buried. 

"Children are in a sense butterflies, though they toil with an almost inconceivable assiduity after life's scanty pollen and nectar, and though, by a curious inversion of the processes of nature, they may become the half-comatose and purblind chrysalides which too many of us poor mature creatures so ruefully resemble. They are not bound in by their groping senses. Facts to them are the liveliest of chameleons. Between their dream and their reality looms no impassable abyss. 

"There is no solitude more secluded than a child's, no absorption more complete, no insight more exquisite and, one might even add, more comprehensive. As we strive to look back and to live our past again, can we recall any joy, fear, hope or disappointment more extreme than those of our childhood, any love more impulsive and unquestioning, and, alas, any boredom so unmitigated and unutterable?" (Walter de la Mare).

The Enchanted Hill.

Walter de la Mare (1873-1956) made sure children were not bored, at least not while reading one of his books especially written for them. Down-ADown-Derry, a collection of fairy verses published in 1922, presents a charming example of his ability to arrest attention and immediately draw little (and big) readers into another world.
Sweet Annie Maroon,
Gathering daisies
In the meadows of Doone,
Hears a shrill piping,
Elflike and free,
Where the waters go brawling
In rills to the sea;
Singing down-adown-derry.
"Remembered chiefly as a poet, for both adults and children,  de la Mare was fluent, inventive, technically skillful, and unaffected by fashion. In his favorite themes of childhood, fantasy, and the numinous, commonplace objects and events are invested with mystery, and often with an undercurrent of melancholy" (OCEL).

Off the Ground.

In his March 1919 lecture, Rupert Brooke and the Intellectual Imagination, partially quoted above, he asserted that "[children] are contemplatives, solitaries, fakirs, who sink again and again out of the noise and fever of existence and into a waking vision." Children are visionaries, and de la Mare fostered nourishment and gave inspiration to those visions.

Dorothy Lathrop made de la Mare's visions concrete.

Dorothy Pulis Lathrop (1891–1980) was an American author and illustrator of children's books with  more  than  thirty-eight  illustrated  volumes  to  her credit,  published  primarily between  the  years
1919 -1962, with nine issued during the 1930s alone.

Sunk Lyonesse

Lathrop developed a friendship with de la Mare, and ultimately illustrated five of his children's books, including the illustrations for  Crossings (1923), Mr. Bumps (1942), and Bells and Grass (1942).

In 1938 she was awarded the very first Caldecott Medal for her illustrations to Animals in the Bible by Helen Dean Fish.

In 1922, Constable & Co. in London issued Down-ADown-Derry by de la Mare and illustrated with three magnificent full color illustrations and many dramatic and stunning black and white illustrations by Lathrop. It was issued in a limited de luxe edition of 325 copies numbered and signed by the author and bound in full Japanese vellum, pictorially stamped, with the top edge gilt. Constable offered a trade edition in the same year, bound in pictorially stamped blue cloth. The first American edition was issued by Henry Holt in the same year.
There's snow in the air;
Ice where the lily
Bloomed waxen and fair;
He may call o'er the water,
Cry--cry through the Mill,
But Annie Maroon, alas!
Answer ne'er will;
Singing down-adown-derry.
There, in this last stanza, is the poignant melancholy that de la Mare can capture. Whether male or female, young or old, it makes no difference; winter's onset and the sense of loss and yearning is palpable.

DE LA MARE, Walter. Down-ADown-Derry. A Book of Fairy Poems by Walter De La Mare with illustrations by Dorothy P. Lathrop. London: Constable & Co., Ltd., [1922]. First edition, Edition De Luxe, limited to 325 large paper copies signed by the author.  Quarto (9 5/8 x 6 3/4 inches; 245 x 170mm.). Three full-page color plates, including frontispiece, with tissue guards. Numerous black and white drawings, many full-page. Top edge gilt, others untrimmed.

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with out thanks.

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