Walter de la Mare

(1873 - 1958 / Kent / England)

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The Listeners


"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.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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Read poems about / on: horse, silence, house, dark, lonely, sky, world, star

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Comments about this poem (The Listeners by Walter de la Mare )

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  • Freshman - 1,346 Points K.c. Ford (8/7/2014 3:40:00 AM)

    The traveller is Jesus and the promise given of the second coming - read also the second coming by Yeats - another brilliant poem. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 0 Points Colleen Courtney (6/18/2014 12:45:00 PM)

    Love this haunting and thoughtful poem! Am so glad was recommended to me. Would hate to have missed out on such a fabulous piece of poetry. Already know I will be referring back to reread this often. It's almost breath stealing in it's beauty. (Report) Reply

  • Bronze Star - 6,689 Points * Sunprincess * (6/18/2014 10:42:00 AM)

    .............loved reading this haunting and mysterious write....i placed myself in the position of the Traveler.....and thought hey, i shouldn't have come here this late at night....cause everyone is sleeping, but the strangeness of the situation with no one answering my knock even after calling out to them....leaves me with an eerie feeling....then i placed myself in the position of the listeners....sure they were probably a family with young children who had passed on from some unfortunate illness or such.....and we know listeners never sleep.....but since they are no longer in the land of the living.... they could not respond to the Traveler....this poem is a masterpiece.....and is definitely an unforgettable write....which is going into my favcurite poem collection....
    ..............................~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ love love love ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~............................................. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 204 Points D.l. Aceves (4/25/2014 1:10:00 PM)

    A nice reading of this poem on YouTube here: https: //www.youtube.com/watch? v=1boO_g5W1sM (Report) Reply

    Bronze Star - 6,689 Points * Sunprincess * (6/18/2014 10:52:00 AM)

    .....thanks so very much for this link..........i checked out the reading and so pleased i did.....

  • Rookie Speedy Cashman (10/24/2013 4:02:00 PM)

    The Traveller is a diety because his name is spelled with a capital letter. Reference Revelation 3: 20 for an interpretation to add to the excellent insights already mentioned. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 0 Points Rajeev Deshpande (9/7/2013 12:12:00 PM)

    The poem is a classic example of imagination, mystery and poetic creativity rolled into one. From the title to the last line this piece of poetry holds the attention of the reader. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Em Williams (5/1/2013 6:00:00 AM)

    I studied this poem in Literature class a few years ago, and every couple of weeks I came back here to read it again. I don't know what it is about The Listeners. There's something so beautiful and haunting about it. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie James Wilko (8/27/2012 2:09:00 AM)

    I really like this poem.
    It's a very deep poem, and there are many theories as to what it means. I believe the traveller is a living man, who has made a promise visit someone, but finds them dead. I think this is the case because he is referred to as a traveller, someone who doesn't stay anywhere for long, e.g. the land of the living. I love hearing what people have to say about this poem. It's really thought provocative. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Doctor Karunya (6/24/2012 4:24:00 AM)

    What is the meaning of the lines:
    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. ? (Report) Reply

    Rookie - 261 Points Stephen W (8/7/2014 10:32:00 AM)

    It just means they're listening.

  • Rookie Babu Gohel (10/30/2011 3:47:00 AM)

    I LOVE THIS POEM.
    the poet is talking about moonlit night when everywhere is silence.it does help to creat the sence of mystery.the silence and the darkness add to confusion of the traveller.the poet does not anything say clearly about the traveller.it seems that he has visited the place before or he must be one of the residents who almost seen non existent.
    the traveller is knocking and knockin, smiting upon the door which is shut.looking up at the window which hang leaves. the eyes of the travellers are grey in colour.they are perplexed beacause his voice is not answered by anyone. the sounds heard in silence of the night and the confusion of the traveller creat mystery. which give us special effect to this poem.

    in short
    there is the very interesting and ununderstanding poem.so we get this poem very happy for my study in college. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Matt Buckley (11/22/2009 9:06:00 AM)

    The traveller has come to fulfil a duty. He had left something and promised to come back to it. It seems that a great time has passed. The air is still and the hall is empty (a hall that was probably filled some time ago with activity) What ever he left behind, he could now not summon. The sleeping group, could not be stirred. He has had communication with the listeners in the past - when the promise was made. The listeners are now sleeping and won't wake.

    The traveller is actually searching for a lost unbridled imagination, for creativity. It is now gone, and he heads back to the logic-driven reality. One of Walter's main obsessions was with the ingenuity and vision of the child, and how over time, this is lost. In the traveller's journey to revisit or recover this way of existince, he can't stir it. He leaves and re-assures his soul that he tried ('tell them I came, and no one answered') . We often say that the soul has windows: note how the traveller peers into the window and sees nothing; no one is there to greet. Why the 'throng' no-longer responds 'perplexes' him. The listeners (the unbridled imagination) are present, but lie sleeping; discarded and left behind. There is a deathly feel, but it not the death of physical beings, these beings are not 'from the world of men'. (Report) Reply

    Rookie - 321 Points Jim Hogg (8/7/2014 2:02:00 PM)

    Sounds as if you're implying this is a journey into himself in search of something lost (that unbridled imagination) that can no longer be found; or can't answer because it has withered in time through lack of use ... A beguiling scenario... thanks for that..

  • Rookie Brian Walter (5/17/2009 12:48:00 PM)

    I too first read this poem in English class some 45 years ago. It gave me goose bumps then and still does now. I think we identify with the traveler because we have all made promises to keep, and he/she kept their's, apparently at some effort.
    But I also like Sean Hall's idea that we are the phantom listeners, at least from de la Mare's perspective, sitting in his room writing, thinking about the unseen audience. Mostly, I don't intellectulize about it too much but just let it flow through me (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Hibah Tipu (5/5/2009 7:41:00 AM)

    this poem is the one that i really loved.it showed the other side of the world.it showed how we humans aren't alone that live but there arw ither unknown things out there. the traveller can seperate these things. he talks to the darknessas if it is his own species. he whispers to the animals as if they speak his language. It is a unique poem in its creed and i loved it. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Sean Hall (3/3/2009 3:22:00 PM)

    I first read this poem a couple years ago in a college english class. I loved it so much I chose to do my paper on it. One review of De La Mare's work mentioned that a lot of his work seems to suggest a larger sense of history or historical events. I got that impression from this poem. I see a castle or large manor house.When the Traveller says ' Tell them I came and no one answered, that I kept my word' it seems to imply a larger history, that he is there for a specific reason. In my paper I came to the conclusion that the poem is meant to raise questions not answer them, to create a sense of mystery, that we are not really ever supposed to know who the listeners are or who the Traveller is or why he's there, that De La Mare himself doesn't really know. But I also like the idea that we the readers are the phantom listeners. That the Traveller is speaking to us, and so the poem itself is an intersection between reality and fantasy or imagination. I have no idea if De La Mare had that in mind it was just a thought I had. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Sherrie Marker (8/31/2008 9:07:00 AM)

    This particular poem has played with my imagination ever since I was a kid. As a child I imagined the traveller was human and alive, just like all of us. I imagined that while travelling, he found himself in front of a haunted castle.

    Recently I read it again... and instead of looking at a weary 'human' traveller wandering off into ghostly realm. I began to see a ghostly traveller lost in darkness, in his search of the light. The darkness symbolized by the night. This ghostly traveller is tired and weary and by mistake he stumbles upon our realm. The worldly realm. People from our realm cant see him, can't hear him. And he can't see us. But we both sense each other's presence.

    And then I read 'Some One' another poem by Walter de la Mare and I couldnt help but see a connection.

    But then again, for all you know I'm just overworked and my mind is running ahead of me: -) (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Lazy Dabbler (10/27/2007 8:24:00 PM)

    To each their own, but I am a little disappointed that this gem is not rated much much higher. I bet every one ends up reading it more than once.. for it forces you to imagine the atmosphere and the mystery.. and make your own interpretations.

    Here's a tribute from T.S Eliot to De la Mare and the mystery of the nocturnal traveller...

    http: //www.poemhunter.com/poem/to-walter-de-la-mare/

    .......... ........
    .......... ........

    When the nocturnal traveller can arouse
    No sleeper by his call; or when by chance
    An empty face peers from an empty house;

    By whom, and by what means, was this designed?
    The whispered incantation which allows
    Free passage to the phantoms of the mind?

    By you; by those deceptive cadences
    Wherewith the common measure is refined;
    By conscious art practised with natural ease;

    By the delicate, invisible web you wove -
    The inexplicable mystery of sound. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Michelle Garner (6/17/2007 4:56:00 AM)

    Learned this one at school as a child, could still remember it - years later, that must be the sign of an excellent poem! ! One of my favourites (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Bryan Scott (5/28/2007 10:38:00 PM)

    This poem is one of my favorite poems of all time. It evokes such intense feelings of purpose denied but ultimately vindicated. A masterpiece! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Brian Dorn (8/20/2006 2:44:00 PM)

    A brilliantly stunning depiction of fruitless effort... been there, done that (minus the horse of course) . (Report) Reply

Read all 23 comments »

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