Fred had two poems which he really enjoyed. Last time we took a look at the first one of the two, “Tarantella”, which was written by Hilaire Belloc. Today, I’d like to introduce you to Fred’s second poem, “The Listeners” which was written by Walter de la Mare. This poem is great for children of around nine or ten, because it leaves so many questions unanswered and they can be asked to contribute their own ideas to the discussion:
‘Is 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 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.
So….no answer when the grey-eyed traveller knocked on the moonlit door. The place is completely deserted. Or is it?
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.
In other words, not just one ghost but a host of unidentified phantoms. Are they going to make their presence known?
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;
The ghosts just prefer to remain still. Saying nothing and totally unseen. The Traveller knocks loudly a second time.
For he suddenly smote the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head: –
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,’ he said.
But it has no effect. They can hear every word from the Traveller, but prefer to say nothing. And they can hear his departure. His foot into the stirrup and the horse’s shoes on the stone cobbles.
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.
And off he goes. The silent ghosts reclaim their building as soon as the Traveller is gone. And the building returns to its usual deserted state:
But why did he say ‘Tell them I came, and no one answered, That I kept my word,’? Alas, there are no hints given on that score, although clearly, there is some connection between all three protagonists, namely, the Traveller, the lone house and the listeners.
I think that the poem is as simple as that. It’s rather like when a stranger knocks on the door of the house next door to yours. They wait for an answer but “answer came there none“. (Thank you, Lewis. Now just be quiet).
And you never do find out why they were knocking.
Filed under History, Literature, Personal, Writing
Tagged as answer came there none, ghosts, Hilaire Belloc, Lewis Carroll, phantoms, Tarantella, the horse, The Listeners, the lone house, the Traveller, Walter de la Mare, Wills Cigarettes