Is there anyone there?

oil painting of empty fireplace by Eoin Mac Lochlainn

“Is there anybody there?” said the traveller, knocking on the moonlit door  –  I love that poem by Walter de la Mare.  I thought of it when I stood in an old abandoned house in Kerry. Abandoned after Christmas, I thought, the old Christmas wreath disintegrating on the floor… and I wondered what happened to the picture above the fireplace. Did they take it with them? or did that just disintegrate too? But who were they, and where are they now?  I had so many questions  – but only a host of phantom listeners that dwelt in the lone house then, stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight to my voice from the world of men…

Well, since it’s still Christmas, I’m going to give you the whole poem –

The Listeners  – by Walter de la Mare

“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.


Source: The Collected Poems of Walter de la Mare (1979)

The painting above is 50 x 50cm, oil on canvas (still wet). It’s from my ongoing series of paintings of empty fireplaces in abandoned homes in the West of Ireland.  More of them can be seen at the Olivier Cornet Gallery at:



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