In "The Listeners," how does the poet create an eerie atmosphere?

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First of all, it is at night; the traveller pounds on "a moonlit door".  He is alone, it is quiet, and the poet emphasizes this by describing how you can hear how his "horse in the silence champed on the grasses".  Then, a classic horror-movie startle moment:  "a bird flew up out of the turrett about the Traveller's head".  So, total silence, a moonlight night, a startled bird to scare us. Then, the author refers to the presence of ghosts, which is very eerie:  "only a host of phantom listeners/That dwelt in the lone house then/Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight." It is very eerie to imagine not just one, but a "host" of phantoms, so many that they "stood thronging" on the stairs, listening.  One has to wonder what they will do.  Even more eerie, the Traveller senses them there:  "And he felt in his heart their strangeness,/Their stillness answering his cry."  It is bad enough that he is there alone, but that he can sensse phantoms listening to him; by now the reader should be adequately spooked.

The ending is a perplexing mystery.  The Traveller bangs louder and says, "Tell them that I came.  That I kept my word."  This is very mysterious and eerie; who is he referring to?  What word?  Why must he come tells these phantoms that he kept his word?  It's a bit ominious.

The entire poem, through its use of moonlight, revelation of small clues, and the plot itself, is very eerie, and as a result, very intriguing.