Poems: Walter De La Mare

In honor of the upcoming celebration of the Eve of All Saints, I offer these eery poems by Walter De La Mare,


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.

The Empty House

See this house, how dark it is
Beneath its vast-boughed trees!
Not one trembling leaflet cries
To that Watcher in the skies—
‘Remove, remove thy searching gaze,
Innocent of heaven’s ways,
Brood not, Moon, so wildly bright,
On secrets hidden from sight.’
‘Secrets,’ sighs the night-wind,
‘Vacancy is all I find;
Every keyhole I have made
Wails a summons, faint and sad,
No voice ever answers me,
Only vacancy.’
‘Once, once … ’ the cricket shrills,
And far and near the quiet fills
With its tiny voice, and then
Hush falls again.
Mute shadows creeping slow
Mark how the hours go.
Every stone is mouldering slow.
And the least winds that blow
Some minutest atom shake,
Some fretting ruin make
In roof and walls. How black it is
Beneath these thick boughed trees!
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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

4 Responses

  1. Harry Colin says:

    Very appropriate Halloween verse! One can see how such a poet also crafted ghost stories. Thank you for keeping the flickering flame of poetry alive in this vale of tears.

  2. Michael Strenk says:

    A different poet, but this one would seem to fit the theme: https://internetpoem.com/william-collins/antistrophe-poem/

  3. Robert Reavis says:

    These are excellent poems for Halloween and thank you for posting them.
    On a side note that is related , De La Mare put together a nice anthology from Chaucer to the moderns in a book entitled Come Hither. My wife took a class from a professor for one semester about forty years ago,in which all they did is meet twice a week and read those poems aloud. Looking back on it I think he knew what Ruskin knew about women finding the best in a subject if given a variety of samples to choose from and I think she must have done that as she continued to enjoy reading some of them aloud to our children before bedtime when they were young and their imaginations still innocent and rich . It might be worth a look for homeschooling moms searching for a good sampling of such poems “from Beowulf to Virginia Wolf “as we said in those days when there was still a distant memory of the possible importance of poetry.

  4. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Judge, your wife had a sound teacher, and your remarks confirm a stray thought that has been flitting through my mind from time to time, namely, an online commonplace book. When I was a graduate student, infatuated with all things classical including the classical revival initiated by Petrarch and his disciples, I looked at Erasmus’ Adagia, a collection of ancient aphorisms and memorable statements arranged by subject in a rather elaborate structure. In a small way, I began writing down in a hardback notebook a few things that struck me. In later years, the duties of editing a magazine and running an organization–to say nothing of my natural sloth and the tedium of writing in long hand–discouraged me from keeping up the practice, I nonetheless used to mine my book for insights. Why not an online Commonplace Book to complement the Autodidact? My wife and I have been listening to a reading of Dryden’s Aeneid, and one passage struck me as oddly applicable to postmodern America.