The Three Strangers Summary by Walter de la Mare

This poem summary focuses on the poem ‘The Three Strangers’ by the Georgian poet Walter de la Mare. This poem is made up of five stanzas. Each of these stanzas is again made up of four lines. The speaker in the poem speaks in the first person, and can be equated with de la Mare himself.

In the first stanza, de la Mare describes the setting of the poem, by painting a vivid pictures of the surroundings through which a traveller is making his way. He describes the hills over which the traveller is climbing as very calm, for not many people can be found there, and thus, the noise of any large human settlement is missing. The only sounds one can hear are the sounds produced by nature herself. Then de la Mare goes on to describe how the setting of the sun and the coming of evening time lends the hills a particular colour akin to that of the pink of a rose. The traveller, however, does not notice any of this. He is in a hurry to complete some secret task that has been entrusted to him.

In the second stanza, de la Mare describes how three men unknown to the traveller approach him in the hills that are supposedly very sparsely populated. These men are not wearing any shoes, but their heads are obscured with dark-coloured cloth. They all run their eyes over the traveller, who is hurrying along, all on his own, as if they are scrutinizing him. Though they do not speak, one can tell that they are thinking hard over what task the traveller has been set that he is so determined to fulfil it at all costs within the minimum possible time, and without eliciting anyone else’s help.

In the third stanza, de la Mare describes how the traveller only speaks a few words with these three strangers in a single instant. The poet’s use of the word “confer” gives this conversation a conspiratorial air, and serves to heighten the suspense de la Mare has been building up through the poem. Finally, with the three strangers wishing him “God speed” (a particular saying that the English utter when someone is in a hurry to get somewhere), the traveller continues on his journey once more, at as fast a speed as he had been moving at before his interruption by the three men.

In the fourth stanza, de la Mare makes the extraordinary revelation that the traveller was in fact he himself, and he had seen the entire encounter of the traveller with the three strangers as part of a dream. That dream was left incomplete, and so the poet keeps waiting for the day when sleep will transport him to the world in which he had travelled across those hills that he clearly remembers even now. The tone of longing that is detectable in de la Mare’s verse at this point shows that he has never dreamed that same dream ever again.

In the fifth and final stanza, de la Mare becomes reflective, and wonders whether those three strangers know how much he longs to encounter them again. It is as if their presence had transformed the landscape of the poet’s dreams into a Paradise, and that Paradise is no longer accessible to him. It is at this point that the true nature of the traveller’s conversation with the three men becomes clear. The poet says that he still remembers their “grave courtesy”. This shows that the traveller had been comforted in his mind by his conversation with the strangers in that uninhabited place, and this had given him renewed strength and energy to continue in his important errand.

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