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.”—Walter de la Mare, from “The Listeners” (1912)
The English poet, short-story writer, novelist and anthologist Walter de la Mare was born in London on this date in 1873. As a youngster, I encountered much of his work in anthologies of children’s verse, which didn’t impress me at the time. But “The Listeners” makes me wonder if, perhaps, I should widen my reading of his work.
This poem, one that Thomas Hardy particularly admired, has some of the same haunting quality as Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”—and, like Poe, many of de la Mare’s short stories have a supernatural element. Many of these are ghost stories, with some of the best compared to those of Henry James.
(The image accompanying this post is a cropped version of a 1924 photograph by Lady Ottoline Morrell, now hanging in London’s National Portrait Gallery.)