The Listeners

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.

Summary of The Listeners

  • Popularity of “The Listeners”: “The Listeners ” by Walter de La Mare, an English novelist, writer, and poet, is a superb poem that first appeared in the book of the same title in 1912. The popularity of the poem lies in its supernatural qualities and down-to-earth versification that shows de La Mare’s mastery over the fascinating mystery.
  • “The Listeners” As a Representative of Supernatural Elements:” The poem opens with the anonymous traveler shown knocking at the door of some building in the night lightened up with the moonlight. His horse starts grazing on the grass when a bird flies out of the turret, making the situation and environment mysterious. Getting no response, the traveler knocks again but stands puzzled as he does not get a response to his repeated knocks. Some ghosts, though, peep out as if they want to respond to his knocking but he meets deathly silence outside. After this, he continues beating the door without getting any response, and then he calls out that he has kept his promise. When the words echoing in the darkness of the night, the ghosts listen to the sounds of the hoofs of his horse taking the traveler away from the house.
  • Major Themes in “The Listeners”: Mysterious atmosphere, imaginary ghosts, and romantic situations are three major thematic strands of the poem. The poem has shown that only a night and the presence of a building are enough to create a mysterious atmosphere having supernatural elements. There is no information about the traveler, the location, his journey, the purpose, and the promise. Yet the creation of the imaginary ghosts disturbed at his call and knocking makes the poem worth reading for the readers, specifically for those who love the mysterious atmosphere of a romance where a traveler leaves a hint that he has kept some promise he has made a long time ago.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “The Listeners”

literary devices are literary tools integral to poetic or prose writing. The analysis of these devices in the poem as given below shows this fact.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /e/ in “Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller” and again the sound of /o/ in “Knocking on the moonlit door.”
  2. Alliteration: It is the use of successive consonant sounds in the initials of the successive words such as /f/ in “forest’s ferny floor” and again /h/ in “his horse.”
  3. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /s/ in “And his horse in the silence champed the grasses”, /l/ in “Leaned over and looked into his grey eye” and the sound of /s/ and /l/ in “Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight.”
  4. Deus Ex Machina: The appearance and mention of the ghosts in the poem show the appropriate use of deus ex machina.
  5. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example;

Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. The poem shows the use of imagery such as “Their stillness answering his cry”, “Neath the starred and leafy sky” and “  Louder, and lifted his head.”
  2. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects that are different. The poem shows the use of the metaphors of atmosphere, ghosts, and man.
  3. Personification: The poet has used silence, shadowiness, and stillness as if they have emotions and a life of their own.
  4. Rhetorical Questions: The poem shows the use of rhetorical questions such as “‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller, / Knocking on the moonlit door” used twice in the poem.
  5. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. Here the night, the stillness, the traveler, and the ghosts are symbols of mystery and supernatural elements.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “The Listeners”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Rhyme Scheme: The poem shows the rhyme scheme of ABCB in all of its thirty-six verses.
  2. Repetition: The poem shows the repetition of a rhetorical question “‘Is there anybody there?’” twice in it. It intensifies the mysteriousness of the situation.

Quotes to be Used

These lines show their relevance to the quote when telling the audience that someone has not come but the speaker has arrived as promised.

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,