Why ‘The Moonlit Door’?

Walter de la Mare by Walter Tittle, lithograph, 1922 (©National Portrait Gallery, London)

Walter de la Mare by Walter Tittle, lithograph, 1922 (©National Portrait Gallery, London)

My first post on WordPress!  And so, without fanfare or further ado, I’ll explain why I have chosen this particular name for my blog. It came to me late last year, when I was talking to my high school-aged daughter about poetry, that this would be a good name for a blog concerning writing, and poetry in particular.  The inspiration comes from the poem The Listeners, by Walter de la Mare.

The aforementioned daughter had been worrying  that she was not being taught any enough poetry in English. So she had started dipping into poetry books on the shelves at home, on one occasion taking a copy of the works of Byron to school (she was rewarded by being labelled ‘pretentious’ by one of her friends, perhaps not entirely surprisingly!).I decided that if she was serious, I should perhaps make her learn a poem every week, as I had to do at school. It’s amazing how lines come back to me even after 40 years – on that day last year, as we looked out at the rain sweeping across the choppy grey sea, my husband suggested jokingly that we should take the boat out and I found myself replying:

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack

Butting through the Channel on a mad March day

With a cargo of Tyne coal,

Road-rail, pig-lead,

Something, something and cheap tin trays!

This prompted me to get down The Collins Book of Best-Loved Verse to look up the missing words (which turned out to be ‘Firewood, iron-ware’; these lines are, of course, from the poem Cargoes by John Masefield) and naturally I started re-reading long-remembered favourites.  The Listeners has always been among them and rereading it was a joy; making my daughter learn it by heart was somewhat more of a challenge, however.

Wood engraving, titled and annotated in another hand in pencil in lower margin, estate stamp verso, 9.7 x 9cm.  Annotation reads

Wood engraving, titled and annotated in another hand in pencil in lower margin, estate stamp verso, 9.7 x 9cm. Annotation reads “The Listeners. 1 only.” Illustration for Walter de la Mare’s poem The Listeners. No signed and numbered edition is known. Illustrated in Butler, Raymond McGrath Prints, 1979. I remember this illustration from the poetry anthology in which I studied the poem at school.

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.

Walter de la Mare (1873 – 1958)


2 thoughts on “Why ‘The Moonlit Door’?

  1. Someone came knocking at my wee small door
    Someone came knocking, I’m sure, sure, sure….

    Our grandfather BP played tennis with Walter de la Mare!
    The one WLDLM poem I remember having to learn, apart from the above Someone, which I recited at the Feis in Dublin, was Silver.
    Slowly, silently, now the moon/ walks the night in her silver shoon….

    For me the Moonlit Door is strongly suggestive of Tom’s Midnight Garden. Sister Alexander at school did me a great favour by reading the book aloud to my class when I was nine years old. I guess I have something to thank her for!


    • Yes, I thought I remembered that BP and WDLM were tennis partners. The only Feis poem that I can remember is Kate’s rendition of “The Little furry rabbits/Keep very,very still/And peep at me, across the grass/As I walk up the hill/But if I venture near them, to join them at their play/ A flash of white, and they are gone!/ Not one of them will stay.”


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