To Walter de la Mare
The children who explored the brook and found A desert island with a sandy cove (A hiding place, but very dangerous ground, For here the water buffalo may rove, The kinkajou, the mungabey, abound In the dark jungle of a mango grove, And shadowy lemurs glide from tree to tree – The guardians of some long-lost treasure-trove) Recount their exploits at the nursery tea And when the lamps are lit and curtains drawn Demand some poetry, please. Whose shall it be, At not quite time for bed? … Or when the lawn Is pressed by unseen feet, and ghosts return Gently at twilight, gently go at dawn, The sad intangible who grieve and yearn; When the familiar is suddenly strange Or the well known is what we yet have to learn, And two worlds meet, and intersect, and change; When cats are maddened in the moonlight dance, Dogs cower, flitter bats, and owls range At witches’ sabbath of the maiden aunts; When the nocturnal traveller can arouse No sleeper by his call; or when by chance An empty face peers from an empty house; By whom, and by what means, was this designed? The whispered incantation which allows Free passage to the phantoms of the mind? By you; by those deceptive cadences Wherewith the common measure is refined; By conscious art practised with natural ease; By the delicate, invisible web you wove – The inexplicable mystery of sound.