The Listeners

"IS anybody there?" said the Traveler,

Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence chomped the grasses
Of the forest's ferny floor.
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the traveler's head:
And he smote upon the door a second time;
"Is there anybody there?" he said.
But no one descended to the Traveler;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his gray eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveler's call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
'Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:--
"Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,
" he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Aye, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

Walter de la Mare (1873-1956)

Walter de la Mare was a very successful poet of his day. He was also a novelist, short-story writer and anthologist. T. S. Eliot wrote a tribute to him for inclusion in 'Tribute to Walter de la Mare' (Faber & Faber Ltd., 1948), a book presented to de la Mare on his seventy-fifth birthday. In it Eliot sums up his style very well. The name of the poem is To Walter de la Mare where he refers to this piece in particular as an 'inexplicable mystery'. One thing de la Mare does is really create a scene and a mood that permits the reader to imagine the action. Imagery also discovers a pleasant echo in Loreena McKennit's beautifully evocative line from the song Mummer's Dance :

Who will go down to those shady groves, and summon the shadows there?

After reading The Listeners one might wonder.....why did the rider come to the house?, to whom did he promise he would return? and who are the listeners? The reader is left with an indefinable feeling and a little off balance from the powerful thoughts of supernatural presences haunting this poem in the form of the listeners and watching eyes that fill the empty places once inhabited by men. One thing that makes poetry classical is its timelessness, as well as the appeal to a wide range of audiences. This is at first glance a composition for children but one that can be read with delight by adults. It's ripe for fun sound effects when read aloud, but be careful this can scare the sleep out of some of the wee ones. Published in 1912 in a collection titled The Listeners and Other Poems.


minstrels To Walter de la Mare -- TS Eliot:

Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:

CST Approved

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