The Lonely Traveler’s Call

A poem came to mind following yesterday’s consideration which has haunted me ever since I first read it in middle school. It is one of the most evocative pieces of literature I’ve ever read:

The Listeners, 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.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been on both sides of the equation in your lifetime; at times the Traveler whose call was unrequited and at others a Listener who did not respond to a call obviously meant for you. The failure to communicate is often at the root of the problems we face as individuals and as a race. It reasons, then that improving communication will have the effect of improving our ability to meet the challenges we will face in the days to come.

If someone speaks or writes words that call forth the greatness deep inside of you, for goodness sake, answer the call! Don’t wait for the sound of the hooves; be a good listener! Likewise, if you find yourself in the shoes of the traveler, speak up, knock and don’t give up when nothing but stillness answers your cry.

For those of you who are more auditory, I encourage you to sit back and enjoy this unusual reading and animation of The Listeners by de la Mare:

10 thoughts on “The Lonely Traveler’s Call

  • Wow, I had never read this one before. I wonder what prompted de la Mare to write it. I wonder what the reason for the traveller’s errand was, as well. Was it important enough that he should not have given up? Did he really keep his promise? I guess we’ll never know. Thanks for the great poem.

  • Great poem here and thanks for sharing. What caught my eye was that he was the ‘one man left awake’ —- perhaps a deeper message here from the author…….!

  • What a mysterious poem – and even more so to hear de la Mare say it aloud. I wonder what his promise was – what did he keep his word about and why didn’t any one answer the door! What a cliff-hanger 🙂

  • Loved the poem. I’d never read it before. I too wonder what the promise was. Could he have been sent there to rouse the listeners from their lethargy but by the time he had arrived they had fallen into too deep of a sleep?
    I will do some research on the author and poem…perhaps there is a good story, a message or a cautionary tale.
    Thanks for the fascinating post.

  • Great poem to feature on your blog. Your writing is very effective at producing that magical point of crossroads where there is a call to greatness in oneself to answer. So the great mystery today is, what call did I answer and did I keep my promise regardless of the circumstances surrounding me?

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