“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.
WalterDeLaMare

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.


This is one of  my all time favorites from Walter de la Mare that immediately sets you up with a sense of unknown.  Read it once, you are drawn into the eerie realm of a lone house with leaf-fringed sill and a moonlit door in a ferny floored forest.. read it twice and you wonder about the mystery of the nocturnal traveler, and read it again the mystery deepens, and the more you try to solve it, the more it remains unresolved.  You can make your own interpretations each time and you just might unwittingly be that phantom listener that lets our mysterious traveler ride past you ignoring his knock on the door asking “Is there anybody there?

Here’s a tribute from that literary critic extraordinare, T.S.Eliott as he refers to Walter de la Mare’s  “whispered incantations which allows free passage to the phantoms of the mind”..

To Walter de la Mare — by T.S. Eliot


The children who explored the brook and found

A desert island with a sandy cove

(A hiding place, but very dangerous ground,

 

For here the water buffalo may rove,

The kinkajou, the mungabey, abound

In the dark jungle of a mango grove,

 

And shadowy lemurs glide from tree to tree –

The guardians of some long-lost treasure-trove)

Recount their exploits at the nursery tea

 

And when the lamps are lit and curtains drawn

Demand some poetry, please. Whose shall it be,

At not quite time for bed? …

 

Or when the lawn

Is pressed by unseen feet, and ghosts return

Gently at twilight, gently go at dawn,

The sad intangible who grieve and yearn;

 

When the familiar is suddenly strange

Or the well known is what we yet have to learn,

And two worlds meet, and intersect, and change;

 

When cats are maddened in the moonlight dance,

Dogs cower, flitter bats, and owls range

At witches’ sabbath of the maiden aunts;

 

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.

Advertisements