"The Listeners" by Walter De La Mare as A Supernatural Poem

The Listeners by Walter De La Mare is a fine supernatural poem. It is, as T S Eliot called it, an 'inexplicable mystery'. It is a poem of haunting and the subtle way in which the poet binds the world of the supernatural is really worth praising. It is superb not only from the standpoint of artistic beauty with pretty words in a rhythm or rhyme, but also from that of the presentation of details and arrangement of incidents of the two worlds – the worlds of the humans and world of phantoms, a glimpse of something deep, another world created by words - never merge in the poem. The closed door nicely symbolizes the eternal gap between these worlds.

A Traveller comes to the deserted house outside at night in a forest on skittish horseback and knocks on the on the moonlit door. He asks if there is anybody in the house. There is no response. There is deep silence all round. The Traveller’s horse champs the grasses of the forest’s ferny ground. A bird flies out of the small tower on the roof of the house. It flies above the head of the Traveller’s head. The Traveller knocks again a second time and asks if there is anybody inside the house. This time also nobody responds to his call; nor does anybody descend to open the door. No head leans over the leaf-fringed sill and looks into the grey eyes of the Traveller. Here the expression “the leaf-fringed sill” suggests that the house has long been uninhabited. So weeds have overgrown the windows and doors of the house. The Traveller becomes confused when his second call also goes unheeded. He grows increasingly more impatient and frightened. He cannot account for the loneliness that prevails in the house. So he stands “perplexed and still”.

Only a host of phantom listeners that dwell in the lone house stand listening to the voice coming from the world of the living. In other words those who listen to the voice of the Traveller are all ghosts. The house is a haunted one and the ghosts fell curious about human voice. They stand crowded on the dark stair in the quit of the faint moonlight. The air in the deserted house, inhabited by shadowy ghost, seems to be stirred and shaken by the sound of the Traveller’s call. The Traveller hears no human voice in response to his calls. Only but the stillness answers his calls. Thus a psychological communication is established between the Traveller and the phantoms. The poet’s horse moves, cropping the dark turf beneath the starred and leafy sky. The leaves cover the star- studded sky in such a way that the leaves and the stars seem to be interspersed in the sky, “equally far and equally near”.

The Traveller again knocks on the door, louder than before. He lifts his head and says, “Tell them I came and kept my word.” This time also there is no response. The phantom listeners make no movement. They stand perfectly still. The words uttered by the Traveller resound in the empty house. The world of the phantoms is shadowy and faint, but there is moonlight in the world of men. The moonlit door is contrasted with the showiness prevailing inside the haunted house. “The one man left awake” refers to the Traveller because he is the only man living in the region of the dead. The Traveller mounts his horse, placing his feet upon the stirrup. He departs, leaving us alone in the house with the phantoms, who now seem very real, who heard everything, who are listening with us to the noise slowly fade away. The phantom listeners hear the clatter of the horse’s hoofs on the stony path as he rides away. The sound of the horse’s hoofs fades and dies away in the distance. And, then, deep silence reigns supreme in the world of the dead. The expression “silence surged softly backward” means that after the departure of the Traveller silence rolls back in the place like the waves of the sea.   

 Ardhendu De

Let’s Answer These Questions:                                                   

  • Do you find the Traveller outside at night more impatient and frightened?
  • Has the Traveller come here in desolated jungle to fulfill a duty?
  • What is the Traveller actually searching for?
  • Describe The Traveller in the poem The Listernes. 
  • What does the ‘staircase’ signify in The Listeners?