We haven’t done one of these in a while so for those of you new to our blog… Our Life in Books is a recurring post where we both take you through books and literature that were either meaningful to us or contributed to who we are as readers today. We are starting with our early reading experiences in a range of genres and we’ll move forward in time with each successive post. You can check out our past posts here. BW picks it back up with poetry
Where is there a better source of morbid material than in the world of poems? My favourite poem of all time is the haunting The Listeners by Walter de la Mare.
I was introduced to this poem as 9/10 year old (lets admit it was so long ago I cannot accurately remember) when an enthusiastic teacher read it to the class and then tasked us with writing a back story for the horse man.
Here is the poem and if you are not intrigued and touched by the traveller then you are not human (just kidding):
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.
For my back story, I imagined the traveller as a suitor to the lady of the house. Knowing he is not worthy of her, he leaves to make his fortune but promises to come back and claim her as his own. When he returns, she and her entire family have been wiped out by a plague (come on is that not a book you would read?)
The funniest thing I remember about the assignment was the back story invented by a male classmate. He imagined that the traveller was the milkman. Wow that is some dedicated milkman! You don’t get service like that nowadays!
To hear a rendition of this poem, see this youtube clip: