Poem Of The Week: 31 October 2016

I love this woodcut-style representation of the poem by Josef Lebovic

I love this woodcut-style representation of the poem by Josef Lebovic

Today sees us kicking off a new series … Poem Of The Week.  Please check back every Monday to see what the weekly poem is.  Better still – suggest a poem for the series!

As well as the wonderful short story ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, which you can read here (with the lights turned low), here’s another spookily-themed literary masterpiece for you to sample, if you dare.

There’s also a remarkable back-story about how I got to know this poem …

My copy of this poem was bought at Sutton’s booksellers, in Ulverston. Many of you won’t know that right at the top of Sutton’s is a small, cosy room filled with second-hand books (and a beaten-up sofa).  I found that room during the Summer holiday before I started working at the Vic, and probably spent at least an hour there – carefully checking each book on every shelf, so that I didn’t miss anything interesting.

I LOVE second-hand books: the smell of them; the strange binding and cover designs of familiar works; and the stories that come with the books themselves … and my copy of de la Mare’s poems was a real find.  Although the poem was first published in 1912, my volume was published in 1921 and bought by – intriguingly – someone who signed themselves ‘Puck the Painter’ and labelled the book ‘A slight return!’, whatever THAT means …

But as you can see from this image, the real treasure was a letter from the poet to a Mr. Wilson (Puck the Painter?), who seemed desperate to get de la Mare to give a talk about his work.  So, for the princely sum of £5, I got a volume of de la Mare’s poetry that’s almost 100 years old PLUS a signed letter from the author!

Here's a scan of the letter I found tucked inside my volume of de la Mare's poems ...

Here’s a scan of the letter I found tucked inside my volume of de la Mare’s poems …

Anyway, enjoy this week’s spooky poem – and visit your local bookshop, soon!

The Listeners, by Walter de la Mare (1912)

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.

 

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English Teacher; Shakespeare Geek; Science Fiction Nerd; Adult Fan Of Lego (AFOL); Scrabble Warrior; Television Refusenik. Above all, READER ...

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