“The Listeners” is the most famous and frequently anthologized poem by Walter de la Mare, an author otherwise known mostly for his horror fiction and works for children. It first appeared in print in 1912 in de la Mare’s third collection of...
Walter de la Mare, born in April 1873, was a novelist, short story writer, and poet. He achieved renown as a writer relatively late in life, after working for 18 years in the statistics department of Standard Oil in London to support his family. During that time he still found time to write; however, it wasn’t until a friend secured him a Civil List pension in 1908 that de la Mare was able to focus on his writing full-time. In contrast to many of the other famous writers of his day, de la Mare had a relatively unremarkable, traditional personal life. He married his first and only wife, the actress Elfrida Ingpen, in 1899. They had four children and remained together until her death from Parkinson’s disease in 1943.
Best known for his stories for children, as well as his short, psychologically-driven horror fiction, de la Mare was also a prolific poet. His best-known and most widely anthologized work, "The Listeners," first published in 1912, remains a widely read classic of English poetry to this day. His best poems, even as they draw heavily on his deep knowledge of classical as well as Teutonic and Nordic myth, manifest the same psychologically subtle, unsettling tone as his short fiction.
Part of the more traditional Georgian school of English poetry—he appeared in several of the five original anthologies titled Georgian Poetry from which the tendency derives its name—de la Mare nonetheless counted among his admirers such modernists as T.S. Elliot, who wrote a tribute to de la Mare titled “To Walter de la Mare” on the occasion of the poet’s 75th birthday. Walter de la Mare suffered a coronary thrombosis in 1947, and remained bedridden until he died of another in 1956 at the age of 83.