The Listeners by Walter de la Mare

I learned the following brilliant poem from a Carysfort College novitiate teaching Sister of Mercy. She was one of many who came annually to Goldenbridge to practice newly learned school-teaching methodologies at the Mother House in-training teaching college. Inmates were basically used as guinea-pigs for the posh schools the novices would eventually find themselves teaching. Nonetheless, during these instances, I didn’t mind in the slightest, as I loved every minute of the learning. It was such a pity that the resident nuns at Goldenbridge did not take an interest in us educationally and send us to the outside national and secondary school, which was just a stones throw within Goldenbridge convent grounds. For the life of me, I cannot fathom why survivors like us were singled out for all the measly chores and never selected for education, or dancing or anything that would have stimulated our brains and bodies. We were considered ‘good for nothing’ and were never going anywhere in our lives, as far as the religious were concerned. We were considered the lowest of the low, and manual labour was the only kind of work that befitted our lowly status.


by Walter de la Mare

‘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.

Image of Walter de la Mare, who was renowned for The Listeners.

“An intensely atmospheric piece this and steeped in mystery too. Who is the Traveller, Where is he, What kind of tryst had he made and with whom? The poem is dated for sure but propels us effortlessly towards a series of un-answerable metaphysical questions. It´s unworldliness is gently disturbing and magnificently perplexing. No wonder it is such a favorurite. You can take the door and what lies beyond as The Quest of a Life, The Higher Self, One´s Maker or The Promise of Heaven. Are the phantoms the ghosts of Men or even the spirits of our extinct species?! It seems to open to any number of shifting interpretations. Incidentall there’s another de la Mare ‘All That’s Past’ here.” So sayeth Caspar33 owner of above YouTube video.

 H/t Caspar33.

I really enjoyed Caspar33’s take on the fantastic poem. It’s made my day!


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