Walter de la Mare

(1873 - 1958 / Kent / England)

The Listeners - Poem 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 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.

Comments about The Listeners by Walter de la Mare

  • Robert Murray Smith (5/5/2017 11:23:00 PM)

    A great image filled poem.10 (Report) Reply

    2 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • (3/18/2017 4:08:00 AM)

    I believe that the traveller is me. I have come back from the future to find once again the dreams of my youth. I call out to the listeners, these are my younger selves buried deep within me, who remember the secret desires i have long since forgotten. Try as I might I can not rouse them, I have learned too much to see the world as purely and beautifully as they. To me, their house remains empty. My only solace as I slide my feet back into the stirrups of a horse named Duty, is that I have tried, Although I may not be able to remember the dreams of my youth, I have not forgotten that I had them.
    This poem reminds me that I must make the most of each and every day and do my best not to put off until tomorrow the things I would like to do today, because tomorrow I won't be the person I am today.
    (Report) Reply

  • Tom Allport (1/7/2017 6:01:00 AM)

    tom allport
    a lovely poetic story about fulfilling a promise made. (Report) Reply

  • (9/18/2016 11:56:00 AM)

    Beautiful poem, recall my school days when I read it, still enjoy reading it. So lot to imagine and visualise. (Report) Reply

  • (1/10/2016 12:08:00 PM)

    This is my favourite poem. I love the sense of someone fulfilling some long-standing promise, keeping his word only to find the people he made the promise to dead and gone. I like the way it is left to the reader's imagination to alleviate about the past events that led to the Traveller's return, and the nature of his relationship with the Listeners. (Report) Reply

    Murray Zz1 (1/10/2016 12:10:00 PM)

    The word alleviate should say speculate - predictive text error!

  • (11/4/2015 1:45:00 PM)

    We were taught in England at school that this was a crusader who had been long, long gone who had made a promise but when he returned everyone was but a ghost, but they still knew he had kept his promise. The question we had to answer in an essay was: What was tbe promise? (Report) Reply

    Cassandra Troy (4/22/2016 6:32:00 PM)

    How did your teacher know that he is a crusader? It is not hinted at in the poem. For some reason I always imagined the setting to be 18 th century rather than middle ages.

  • Anish Debnath (10/2/2015 4:04:00 AM)

    Sometimes we feel spooky when alone
    in a loony place where there is none.
    Even the slightest noise makes us aware
    & we want to leave abandoning the works undone

    But we can't since our promised duties
    to perform & stay at least for a try
    showing the words are kept properly.
    Leave the place & sigh.
    (Report) Reply

  • Soumita Sarkar (9/6/2015 9:34:00 AM)

    The interpretation of this poem lies on many layers.....when in need no one answers.....we have to lean on life the silence mean many things.....even the bird moves but not the human soul...liked. (Report) Reply

  • 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

  • (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

  • (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

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

    A nice reading of this poem on YouTube here: https: // v=1boO_g5W1sM (Report) Reply

  • (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

  • 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

  • (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

  • (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

  • (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

    Noreen Keene (5/26/2015 7:46:00 PM)

    It's painting a word picture of the inside of the house- the stairs coming down to the hall (I picture dust and cobwebs) lit only by faint moonlight, all still but for the disturbance of the knocking. And the listeners, listening..

    Stephen W (8/7/2014 10:32:00 AM)

    It just means they're listening.

  • (10/30/2011 3:47:00 AM)

    the poet is talking about moonlit night when everywhere is 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 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 we get this poem very happy for my study in college.
    (Report) Reply

  • (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

    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..

  • (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

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

Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003

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