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

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That particular line of poetry is best understood when it is read with the following three lines and without pausing at the end of any of the lines.

But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Notice that there is no punctuation at the end of the first three lines. This is a poetic technique called enjambment. The lines are meant to "run over" each other from one to the next without pausing/stopping. In this way, those four lines can be read more like a sentence than anything else. "A host of phantom listeners" acts as the subject. If the line were just, "A host stood listening to the man knock at the door and ask if anybody is home," it would be boring; however, the narrator adds in the "phantom listeners" bit, and that's all it takes to get readers really wondering what is going on in that house. Are people really there? Are the phantoms ghosts or something else? Why do these phantoms just listen? There's an entire host of questions that spring to mind because of this one line and the description that follows in the next three lines. That's what makes poetry so cool. A great many ideas can come from a very few amount of words.
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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.

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