Walter de la Mare's poem "The Listeners" was one of the first longer poems I memorized, having fallen in love with its evocative and mysterious images. De la Mare (1873-1956) was known for many rather mysterious, romantic, and supernatural stories and poems for children and adults, but "The Listeners" (first published in 1912) is his most-anthologized.
It occurred to me that it would be fun to try illustrating it, because I thought the lighting - all dark but for the moonlight - would be a real challenge. I sketched out all my outlines without having decided on exactly which areas would be dark and which would be light. I began carving before making many decisions, which can be a pretty dangerous practice, since the way an area gets carved will differ depending on whether the adjoining space is dark or light. Still, I think it turned out pretty well. I couldn't manage the dramatic lighting I had hoped for on the Traveller, and I'm not happy with the smaller tree in the center. On the other hand, I really like the moonlit leaves of the larger tree. At any rate, without further ado, one of my favorite poems:
‘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.
[Picture: The Listeners, rubber block print by AEGN, 2010.]