In the poem 'The Listeners', explain the line "But only a host of phantom listeners'.

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gpane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This line describes the nature of the audience that greets the Traveller, the main character of the poem, who has arrived at an old house in the forest.The poem opens with his query 'Is there anybody there?' (line 1). He gets no answer, but feels the 'strangeness' (line 21), of the whole place; the very silence itself is unnerving.

It seems there are only ghosts to greet the Traveller, a whole 'host', or army of them; although the ghosts of whom, or what, is not specified. There is no background information given, no clue as what has happened in the past; we simply have the lonely figure of the Traveller, seemingly keeping a rendezvous after many years:


'Tell them I came, that no-one answered,


That I kept my word,' he said. (27-28)


 The overwhelming impression we take away from this poem is one of mystery. It skilfully evokes and sustains an eerie atmosphere, which lingers in the reader's mind.

The ambiguous and questing nature of the piece leaves it open to several interpretations, but many readers enjoy it on the most literal level as an intriguing and evocative ghost story.