As a young guy I really had no interest in poetry. I found it rather boring. Then, one morning our English teacher read a poem and something about it just grabbed me. I’ve never forgotten that poem. It set me on a lifelong love affair with poetry. The poem was Walter De La Mare‘s “The Listeners.” I think it was the sheer mystery of it all that grabbed me. A moonlit door, the knocking and the questions as to who was behind that door, were they expecting the Traveller, who were they, why was the door not opened, and all the many other mysteries? I tried to depict something of it in the above sketch. Here’s the first part of the poem.
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:
I love this last part where he finally rides away without meeting whoever the listeners were. I can just hear the “sound of iron on stone.” And that door, so grateful it was never opened. Throughout the ages it has kept us wondering and will continue to do so forever.
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.