‘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.
Text via Public Domain Poetry
Another early favorite of mine. I don’t remember when I read it the first time, but I had to memorize it in 9th grade, and I’ve always loved it. de la Mare is a good example of a modern romantic, and much of his poetry is similar to this one. He deals extensively with mortality, the imagination, and supernatural mysteries.
The thing that stands out most to me in this poem is de la Mare’s use of silence and moonlight to create an almost Gothic atmosphere. And I’ve always wondered about the promise. Are the Listeners family members? Old war comrades? Or is something deep and dark going on here? The text provides no answer; we have to decide for ourselves, and that only makes this poem better.
I’ve added a couple of elements this week to make this series more useful to those of you either study poetry or are on the hunt for good stuff. The byline now links to an author biography so you can find more info about the featured poets’ lives. The credit at the bottom links to Public Domain Poetry’s author index so you can find more works by the same person.
Stop by next week for another random poem, and feel free to share your thoughts about this one on the thread.