Personal Choice 67
‘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.
Walter de La Mare
A strong sense of wonder let Walter de La Mare (1873 –1956) write mysterious, ethereal poems and stories that can give chills to both young and old - he was a ‘poet of dusk.’ Born in Kent, the ‘garden of England,’ he grew up immersed in nature, but settled in London in 1890, where he worked in an office. A government pension in 1908 allowed him to write full-time, and in 1953 he was awarded the high honour of an Order of Merit. His 1923 anthology Come Hither: A Collection of Rhymes and Poems for the Young of All Ages is a classic.
Stands alone as one of the best poem in our language that evokes so perfectly the mood of a strange, disturbing moody ‘ghostly’ atmosphere.