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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.
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Solitude

BY ELLA WHEELER WILCOX

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
    Weep, and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
    But has trouble enough of its own.

Sing, and the hills will answer;
    Sigh, it is lost on the air;
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
    But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
    Grieve, and they turn and go;
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
    But they do not need your woe.

Be glad, and your friends are many;
    Be sad, and you lose them all,—
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
    But alone you must drink life’s gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;
    Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
    But no man can help you die.

There is room in the halls of pleasure
    For a large and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
    Through the narrow aisles of pain.

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Narrow Road

The months and days are the travellers of eternity.
The years that come and go are also voyagers.
Those who float away their lives on ships or who grow old leading horses are forever journeying, and their homes are wherever their travels take them.
Many of the men of old died on the road, and I too for years past have been stirred by the sight of a solitary cloud drifting with the wind to ceaseless thoughts of roaming.

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Carpe Diem (Catullus 5)

Let us live and love
And not care tuppence for them,
Who sermonise and disapprove.
Suns when they sink can rise again,
But we, when our brief light has shone,
Must sleep the long night on and on.

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Philip Larkin - Church Going

Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new -
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches will fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.

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