1.Why did the Traveller want to see the Listeners in the poem "The Listeners"? 2.What does the poet mean by 'the silence surged softly backward "?What is the poet comparing silence to here? ...

1.Why did the Traveller want to see the Listeners in the poem "The Listeners"?

2.What does the poet mean by 'the silence surged softly backward "?What is the poet comparing silence to here? 

3.What features make these people stand out in the poem "The Listeners "- the Traveller, the Listeners? 

Expert Answers
Michael Ugulini eNotes educator| Certified Educator

1. The Traveller wanted to see the Listeners in the poem “The Listeners” because he had promised that he would return to visit people who were supposed to be at this house. Therefore, the Traveller is a man of his word as he is doing what he assured others he would do. He says:

 

‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,  

   That I kept my word,’ he said.

 

It is not clear why he made this promise. In addition, it is not clear exactly to whom he made this promise. The important point, though, is that the promise was made and that he fulfilled his promise.

 

2. Employing the line “the silence surged softly backward” the poet (Walter de la Mare) means that silence is returning to this house where the phantom “Listeners” reside. These are spirits or apparitions that inhabit this abode. They are used to silence being a major part of the environment wherein they dwell. Noise, commotion, and a bevy of sounds, discordant and/or harmonious are not what they are typically used to. As a result, when the Traveller leaves, silence moves backward from the Traveller and back into the house. Silence is leaving the noisy station of the Traveller and receding to whence it came – the interior of this place where all is quiet.

 

The poet is comparing the silence here to the gentle and relatively soft surf of a quiet lake or other body of water that has delicately rolling waves that ebb and flow with a rhythmic and discreet monotony.

 

a.) The features that make the Traveller stand out in the poem "The Listeners " are his quality of character in that he honored his promise to others; his persistence in wanting to meet the people he made his promise to; and the fact that he is lonely. It stands out that he is stated as being lonely but that he is reaching out to others in his loneliness. Also, what stands out is that the Traveller is perceptive and a feeling individual. He could feel the Listeners’ strangeness and stillness.

 

b.) The features that make the Listeners stand out in the poem "The Listeners " are the fact that they do not respond at all to the Traveller. This makes them enigmatic phantoms that inhabit another plane of existence. Another feature that stands out is, as stated above, that the Listeners have a strangeness to them. This makes the reader want to know more about them and what they are up to. Furthermore, the fact that the Listeners hear all that is going on outside but do not seek to investigate further or meet the Traveller make the reader wonder if they are respectful and friends of humankind, or violent and immoral phantoms that desire harm to humankind. This feature of these spirits lends a tension and foreboding to this poem.