Favorite Poets: Walter de la Mare

“A poet dares to be just so clear and no clearer; he approaches lucid ground warily, like a mariner who is determined not to scrape bottom on anything solid. A poet’s pleasure is to withhold a little of his meaning, to intensify it by mystification. He unzips the veil from beauty, but does not remove it.”
~E.B. White

The Listeners (1912)

“Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grass
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.

So, tell me, who is The Traveller? And who are the listeners? And whom are they to tell that the traveller kept his word? Why won’t the listeners answer? A very mysterious poem indeed.

The Poetry Friday round-up for today is at Becky’s Book Reviews.

2 thoughts on “Favorite Poets: Walter de la Mare

  1. My son (11) has picked and recited a couple of de la Mare’s poems at his poetry club (which used to meet monthly–I think I need to give it a goose to get it going again), so I was happy to see another one plus a book title to pass on to him. Thanks for sharing!

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