Poetry Survey Post 3: The Little Salamander by Walter de la Mare
When I go free,
I think ’twill be
A night of stars and snow,
And the wild fires of frost shall light
My footsteps as I go;
Nobody – nobody will be there
With groping touch, or sight,
To see me in my bush of hair
Dance burning through the night.
Here’s a little lyrical gem that I’ve loved for a long time. It makes an immediate impression and you don’t even really need to know that a Salamander (or Salamandral) is a mythical creature with a strange relationship to fire. In some version, the salamander’s natural element is flame and volcanoes, just as our natural element is air. In other versions, more ancient, the salamander is so cold that it can put out fire. Which do you think the poet meant here? I originally thought this was the salamander of fire and heat, but “wild fires of frost” suggest that the “burning” in the last line might not be the hot kind of burning. It’s hard to imagine a beast of flame wanting to be out and about on a particularly cold night.
Somehow the Salamander in this poem has become caged or imprisoned – or perhaps it has yet to emerge from its original state. He dreams of escape, on a frosty night with no one around. His awareness of his own beauty is balanced by his utter lack of desire to have that beauty witnessed or admired. As imagined, he is a natural beast.
Did you notice the burning bush?