The Listeners Questions and Answers
by Walter De la Mare

Start Your Free Trial

I need summary for the poem "The Listeners" by Walter de la Mare.

Expert Answers info

Jay Gilbert, Ph.D. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseCollege Lecturer

bookB.A. from University of Oxford

bookM.A. from University of Oxford

bookPh.D. from University of Leicester

calendarEducator since 2017

write2,289 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

This poem is about an unnamed Traveler who, with his horse, arrives at a seemingly deserted house in the middle of a forest. We know that it is night time ("moonlit") when the Traveler knocks on the door of the house, calling out to see if anybody is there.

By all signs, the house is empty. An owl flies up out of it, suggesting abandonment, and nobody answers the Traveler. The Traveler, to be certain, knocks again on the door to no response.

However, the poet tells the reader that the house is not really empty—instead, a "host of phantom listeners" stand in the house, listening to the voice of the Traveler as if it were a voice from another world —"the world of men." We are not told who these listeners are, but they are evidently eerie and otherworldly, presumably supernatural.

The Traveler seems to perceive their presence as well, for he continues, "Tell them I came, and no-one answered." He is particularly concerned that they pass on the message that he has "kept his word." The poem's mystery is a large part of its charm—we do not know what promise the Traveler made, which he is now keeping as he returns to this abandoned house where only ghosts are here to listen. But by coming to the house, he seems to have fulfilled what was promised. At the end of the poem, the Traveler gallops away into the distance, with the Listeners still listening until they can no longer hear the sound of his horse's hooves.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write7,057 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Business

"The Listeners" by Walter de la Mare is a narrative poem written from a third person limited point of view, with a character named only as "The Traveller" as the protagonist. Although it is not printed with stanza breaks, it generally follows a stanzaic rhyme scheme, with each group of four lines rhyming in the pattern ABCB.

The Traveller of the poem arrives by horseback at a deserted house in the forest on a moonlit night. He knocks on the door three times but no one answers. The third time he knocks, he says "‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,/ That I kept my word," and then he departs. 

Inside the house are the "listeners" of the title. We are not told if they are real, although they seem to be more ghosts, spirits, the dead, or memories than living people. 

The narrator does not tell us who the Traveller is, what happened in the house, or what was promised. Instead, the point of the poem is its air of mystery and its creation of a dream-like atmosphere

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial