January 20, 2011


I’ve talked about the solitary nature of writing before. One isolates oneself from others in order to create stories one hopes others will read — which means the end game is anything but isolation. I thought about this irony the other day as I reread Walter de la Mare’s poem “The Listeners.”  The poem’s setting is a dwelling in a forest. Whether it’s a hermit’s cabin, a peasant’s cottage or even an abandoned castle is never made clear, but it’s a moon lit night when a rider and his horse pause before it. The horse nibbles on the grass while its rider knocks upon the dwelling’s door. He waits but there is no answer. He senses someone listening, so he knocks again, loud enough to wake the dead; but the phantoms hovering on the darkened stair make no reply. If they could communicate, what would they say to the world of men? The Traveler seems to wonder, for he knocks a third time.

                  Tell them I came, and no one answer’d

                   That I kept my word,’ he said”

Having done whatever he was meant to do, horse and rider disappear into the distance, erased by the stillness that follows.

Sometimes, I think writers are like that Traveler. We pay our visit to an audience we can never meet, sensing their presence but never seeing their faces. They are shadows hovering in a library or a bookstore or on Amazon. They pass us as if we were a disparate element — water flowing through air. Still, the writer keeps his faith that someone is listening, that someone does hear or read his message. Yet there are times when the silence becomes too lonely. Then, like the Traveler, the writer cries out:

                   “Is there anybody there?”