THE LISTENERS BY WALTER DE LA MARE (1873-1956)
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.
BIOGRAPHY Walter de la Mare is considered one of modern literature's chief exemplars of the romantic imagination. His complete works form a sustained treatment of romantic themes: dreams, death, rare states of mind and emotion, fantasy worlds of childhood, and the pursuit of the transcendent.
chewed 3 And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
ALLITERATION OF THE “F-SOUND” Many ferns/plants 4 Of the forest’s fernyfloor:
Cylindrical tower rising from a building. Suggests that it is a mansion or château. 5 And a bird flew up out of the turret
Struck/pounded 7 And he smote upon the door again a second time;
Came down 9 But no one descended to the Traveller;
Windowsill 10 No head from the leaf-fringed sill
bewildered 12 Where he stood perplexed and still.
Shadowy, ghostlike i.e. spirits 13 But only a host of phantom listeners
REPETITION (LINE 15 AND 17) 15 Stoodlistening in the quiet of the moonlight
Crowding, jostling one another REPETITION (LINE 15 AND 17) 17 Stoodthronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
19 Hearkeningin an air stirred and shaken Listening carefully; paying close attention METAPHOR Comparison of the air to a thing that can be shaken
PARADOX (absurd or contradictory statement which, when analysed is found to be true) Stillness is giving an answer. 22 Their stillness answering his cry,
Feeding on; biting off 23 While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
Omission = Beneath Leaves silhouetted against the sky 24 ’Neath the starred and leafy sky;
ALLITERATION Struck; pounded 25 For he suddenly smote on the door, even
ALLITERATION Dash – draw the readers attention towards information that is to follow. 26 Louder, and lifted his head:—
Old English word: “spoke” 30 Though every word he spake
31 Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house METAPHOR Words are compared to something falling loudly with a clutter in a quiet room/house.
“Yes” 33 Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup, D-shaped foothold part of a saddle
34 And the sound of iron on stone, Sound of horseshoes striking the pavement
ALLITERATION 35 And how the silence surged softly backward, PARADOX One cannot hear silence, but the silence was so impenetrable (deafening) that it could not be ignored
TYPE OF POEM Narrative poem = A story which has a beginning, middle, climax and end. • It centres around a traveller’s encounter with the supernatural. • Specifically a Ballad (rhythm has a strong beat, written to be sung)
Narrator • Third person
SETTING AND TONE Setting • Late on a moonlit evening at a dwelling in a forest. • The time is late 19th century – early 20th century. Tone • Serious and the atmosphere is eerie and otherworldly.
CHARACTERS The Traveller • A man who arrives on horseback late at night to call at a dwelling in a forest. When he pounds no one answers. The Listeners • Phantoms inside the dwelling who listen to the Traveller speaking as he pounds on the door. They do not respond to him. NOTE: It could be that the Traveller is actually the phantom and the Listeners are the humans…
… Them • The people that the Traveller came to see (line 27). • However, these people do not respond, possibly because they are sleeping, they do not wish to see the Traveller, or they are now living elsewhere. It is also possible that they died and became the phantom listeners.
RHYME • Every second line rhymes
THEMES Supernatural Eavesdropping • We sometimes sense that a ghostly presence is observing us. • Such moments tend to occur when the sun is down, the moon is up, and an eerie stillness surrounds us. • In “The Listeners”, the man identified as “the Traveller” senses that otherworldly beings are eavesdropping on him. He responds to them. They do not respond to him, however. They are only there to listen.
… Mystery • The poem is metaphor for the mysteries we ourselves encounter as listeners or as callers rapping at a door. • We go through life asking why, and then seek answers. But we do not always get them, whether we are looking for them in religion, science, social interaction, or in ourselves.
ANSWERS 1a The poet mentions “the forest’s ferny floor”. 1b Alliteration 2 The house must be larger as it has towers. The walls are covered with leaves, up to the window sills. It is in a forest and seems to be deserted. The house is in darkness.
… 3 “perplexed” 4a If birds were occupying the turrets, no one had been living in the house for some time. 4b One usually finds turrets on large houses with several storeys.
… 5 The fact that the Traveller arrived on horseback, and the use of old-fashioned words like “spake”, “hearkening” and “ay” suggest that this poem is set in an earlier time. 6a Initially the Traveller knocked, an ordinary way of announcing one’s arrival at a door. Then when there was no reply, he banged much harder, in case his initial knock had been too soft. They reinforce the idea of no humans being present.