The Listeners

Want something fun to read on Halloween? The Listeners is an amazing poem that also goes well with the Moonlit Soup recipe. If you like it, you might also like some of Walters other works. He made some really gorgeous illustrated poetry books and children’s books. There are of course many modern authors and poets whose work is published and enjoyed today. (Like this fab Halloween’esque short story from Joanne Harris) Yet I do feel it such a shame that older poems disappear into the recesses of specialist bookshops or Amazon back catalogues. I’m all for bringing vintage and classic poetry back to life. There is a lot of wisdom to be found in and among the pages of old books. Nearly all the literature I use in my classes is vintage and for good reason too. It’s pure gold!

I just love how this poem from Walter conjures such vivid images…

And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor:

And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

Walter de La Mare, The Listeners

I mean, wow!! <3  Gorgeous. I love it straightforwardly, and I also love that if you wanted to you could draw all number of other subtle parallels too. For example, something that has always touched me about this poem, aside from the marvellous scene setting, is… well…..Is there anybody there? Are they there and just not speaking up? And if so, why not? Or is there nobody there… and if so, where have they gone? Mysterious!

What do you think about this poem?

‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,   
   Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses   
   Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,   
   Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;   
   ‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;   
   No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey 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 Traveller’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 on 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:
Ay, 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.

The Collected Poems of Walter de la Mare (1979)

If you enjoyed this post you might also like a great spooky short story review of Joanne Harris and a review of The Lady Of Shalott