This mysterious and evocative poem captured my attention as a teenager and still resonates. A reviewer for litcharts.com wrote:
“The Listeners” draws much of its eerie quality from the fact that its meaning is rather opaque; the poem in many ways defies interpretation precisely because it is about the unknown and the unknowable. Somewhat paradoxically, “The Listeners” acknowledges people’s desire to seek understanding while also asserting a certain insurmountable mystery of the world around them. In short, the poem suggests that people cannot always find the answers they seek, regardless of how hard they look.Poetry Foundation describes the poet ...
Walter de la Mare, born on April 25, 1873 in London, is considered one of modern literature’s chief exemplars of the romantic imagination. His complete works form a sustained treatment of romantic themes: dreams, death, rare states of mind and emotion, fantasy worlds of childhood, and the pursuit of the transcendent.This YouTube reading is the only one I could find that captures the magic and mystery of this poem. If you like this poem, be sure to listen here, it is haunting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlKgIXHETmU
‘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.