Poem ‘The listeners’ was written by Walter de La Mare and published in 1912. This poem ‘The Listener’ has mysterious and supernatural touch with the mention of ‘phantoms’ that might be the listeners because the query of the traveller goes unanswered.
The Listeners Poem Word-Meanings
champed – chomped, chewed making sounds
ferny– floor – the fern plants growth on the forest soil
turret – a cylindrical tower rising from a building
smote (pt. of smite) – struck or hit
leaf-fringed sill – the plant growth reaching and around the window sill
sill – a narrow shelf at the base of a window frame
perplexed – confused and anxious
phantom – a ghost
dwelt – lived
world of men – human beings
thronging – crowding
harkening – listening
stirred and shaken – as if vibrating the air and the moonbeam
felt their strangeness – felt the creepiness of the inside atmosphere of the house
neath – beneath
leafy sky – the reflection of sky when seen from under the trees.
spake – spoke
shadowiness – darkness created by the shadow of the house
sound of iron on stone – the galloping of horse
surge – rise and move forward
plunging – jumping
Summary: The Listeners
The poem has mysterious and supernatural touch with the mention of ‘phantoms’ that might be the listeners because the query of the traveller goes unanswered.
The poem begins with the traveller knocking on a moonlit door in an unknown place. It is this sense of the unknown, with all its ambiguities, that controls the tone and mood of the poem. The place in the forest where the traveller finds himself is deserted and overgrown with brambles. The sense of isolation and strangeness causes the lonely human visitor first to knock on the door of the turreted house, then to smite it, and finally to smite it even louder, as his cries receive no response. It is only he who is perplexed and lonely in this night time scene though his horse is shown contentedly champing the grasses. This sense of mystery is deepened because we don’t know why the traveller was there. It is clearly to keep some promise, though it is peculiar for him to come to this lonely and isolated place in the middle of the night. Something must have compelled him to cry out repeatedly to a deserted house, without entering to see for himself who or what might be there. While the traveller feels in his heart the strangeness, stillness of the place and the ‘listeners’, his horse continues to crop the ‘dark turf’—oblivious to the things around. The poem ends with a shift in focus from the lonely traveller to the silent listeners; while he rushes to flee the scene, they remain behind in the returning silence.
Though the traveller leaves by leaving an oral message to the unknowns and leaves the place but the readers are left to think as who the listeners were – were they really ghosts or anything else be the case.
The Listeners: Question-Answers
1. The poem is set in a moonlit evening at a dwelling in a forest. The tone is serious and the atmosphere is eerie and supernatural otherworldly. A mystery shrouds the poem in the end leaving the reader thinking as who were in the house.
2. The traveller knocked at the door and said, “Is there anybody there?”
3. The poem creates an eerie and mysterious atmosphere with supernatural touch. The poem develops through a starry moonlit night. The traveller knocks the door of a big house thrice but gets silence in reply. It might be that there were phantoms listening but not responding. The traveller stands there still hoping someone to come out and lean over the window. Not only the traveller but his horse also senses strangeness in the atmosphere. When the stranger leaves the place, the same eerie silence follows. The reader is left with guessing and thinking as who might be there in the house.
4. No one answered the traveller because there were either no one in the house except the host of phantoms or the house was empty.
5. The traveller left the message for the inhabitants by asking them to tell that he had come and kept his promise.
6. These two creatures, the bird and the horse, create and add an element of mystery, spookiness making the atmosphere eerie.
7. The traveller was answered by the listeners in the form of creepy silence. The poet means by these lines that he also felt the strangeness of the atmosphere that was creepy silence all around the house. And it was this silence that was the answer to his question if anybody was inside the house.
8. The unanswered questions are:
i. Were there really any people in the house?
ii. Were there really a host of phantom inside the house?
iii. What was the promise that the traveller had come to fulfil?
iv. Why the traveller reached the house at night?
i. No, it seems that there were no people inside the house otherwise they would have responded as the traveller had knocked the door thrice.
ii. The creepy strangeness was felt by the traveller and it makes us think that some supernatural elements were present there and that may be phantoms.
iii. It is not clear but maybe it was none of his intimates’ house. May be someone had asked him to visit at night in the forest to judge his courage or capability to fulfil the promise.
iv. The traveller may have reached at night may be according the conditions of the promise or he had come a long distance that it became evening by the time he reached there.
1. The personification has been used as stillness has been shown as any person answering his cry. The lines also contain the poetic device ‘paradox’ as to how can stillness answer a cry.
2. ‘Personification’ as silence is shown surging as a person trying to rise forward. ‘Alliteration’ – silence surged softly
B. Examples of Alliteration are:
i. forest’s ferny floor
ii. suddenly smote
iii. silence surged softly
iv. louder, and lifted
v. stirred and shaken