(Poem #2) The Listeners
'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.
One of my all time favourite poems; it recently came second in a poll some British newspaper (I forget which) ran to determine the ten best-loved poems. Take a guess at the first (mail me and I'll collate the answers - it would be interesting to see if junta get it). The imagery finds a nice echo, incidentally, in Loreena McKennit's 'Mummer's Dance', including what is IMHO one of the most beautifully evocative lines I've heard in a song: Who will go down to those shady groves, and summon the shadows there? Martin. PS. The best loved poem: two people guessed 'If', one 'The Road Not Taken', and Jose got the right one, specifically 'Daffodils'. Personally it would not even make my top 10 list, but as Jose says, it is indeed a ubiquitous poem, and most people have studied and enjoyed it at some stage in their lives. Martin.