"Is there anybody there?" said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And her 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 she smote upon the door again a second time;
"Is there anybody there?" she said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into her brown eyes,
Where she 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 she felt in her heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering her cry,
While her horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
'Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For she suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted her head:--
"Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word," she said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word she spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard her foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone."
Walter de la Mare, 1873-1958 ~
* Note: Gender changed in this poem for effect.
"The Listeners" is Walter de la Mare's most famous poem. It narrates (in third person) the story of a mysterious man(woman) coming to a house in the night on horseback, and subsequently failing, to deliver a message and fulfill a promise. Nobody is there but the "Listeners" (named in the title), who seem to be merely spectral. It is apparent that "The Listeners" hear his (her) knocking and request for assistance, however they choose to ignore it.
Some people think that the poem represents missed opportunity on the part of the traveler. The house meant something to her, so she returned to it, but she came back too late and there was nothing left but shadows and memories. Alternatively she may have promised to deliver a message from an acquaintance : "'Tell them I came, and no one answered,/ That I kept my word,' she said"
Door with painted panels: Henry Rankin Poore (1859-1940) Read HERE.