‘The Listeners’ by Walter de la Mare is one of the most popular poems of all-time … often in the top in any peoples’ poetry poll …
‘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.
Walter de la Mare
… the atmosphere and imagery created by the words is very direct and it is easy to think of experiences where we have waited impatiently after knocking at a door … and such circumstances force our mind to look at the surrounds as we wait, taking more note of these than we usually do – concentrating on hearing and hopeful that someone will come.
… there is a certain mystery conjured up giving thought to such things as … why is it so important for the Traveller to be heard … what is the history harboured behind the walls of this somewhat isolated house in the country … there is very much a ghostly feel to the words such as ‘a host of phantom listeners’.
… it poses a question … does the environment have a voice, all be it in the stillness … does each object exude a message … the Traveller speaks to the house and surrounds as though he is talking to a person, as well as speaking to himself
… I do like the bird flying up out of the turret … the immediate response to the initial demands of the Traveller … a taking of flight from the disturbance – a certain omen
… does the ‘world of men’ rudely intrude on nature … and when man is an intricate part of nature what is the response in any ‘conversation’ … the Traveller actually talks to the innate objects in his state of annoyance and to the extent of asking the house to respond back to the person he wishes to see after he has left the scene
… the opening words straight away pose a question … is anybody there and at the end of the poem the answer is left for the reader to decide … clearly there is no human response, other than a non-response … someone may be inside who will not answer … but the house has ‘answered’ of course … it is up to the Traveller and the reader to make interpretation of this too
… you could also say this is a poem about poetry, about being heard … the poet trying to converse with the reader … in the end the poet has tried, leaving behind his or her words and that is all a poet can do … imploring the reader to respond and ‘shouting’ at his words it is up to you to deliver!
What does this silent house say?