Walter de la Mare (1873-1956) was an English poet, short story writer and novelist probably best remembered for his works for children and for this poem, The Listeners. He also wrote some subtle psychological horror stories, such as “Seaton’s Aunt” and “Out of the Deep”. He also wrote many ghost stories which makes him a good candidate for this post, as I am still on a Halloween theme as Halloween, Samhain’s Eve will be with us tomorrow.
Walter de la Mare was born in Kent and had two brothers and four sisters. In 1892 he joined the Esperanza Amateur Dramatics Club where he met and fell in love with his future wife Elfrida Ingpen, the leading lady, who was ten years older than he. They were married on 4 August 1899 and they went on to have four children. Their house at Anerly in south London was the scene of many parties, notable for imaginative games of charades.
In 1940 his wife was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and died in 1943. From 1940 Walter de la Mare lived in Twickenham, the same street where Tennyson had lived a century earlier and lived there until he died from a coronary thrombosis in 1956. His ashes are buried in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, where he had once been a choirboy. You can read more about his life here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/walter-de-la-mare
This poem, The Listeners has been put to music, there are many different versions in various styles and this is one I found on YouTube by Bernd Wahlbrinck who believes it to be one of the best English ballards ever written, it is well worth a listen to. You can find it here: http://youtu.be/SWdV3d014S8
The Listeners – 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.