Attempt a critical appreciation of the poem "The Listeners" by Walter de la Mare.

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lit24 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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The poem "The Listeners" by Walter de La Mare describes an eerie situation in which a traveller alights from his horse and knocks on the doors of an old ruined castle in order to keep an appointment with its ghostly inmates. However, all his repeated efforts end in failure and he leaves without meeting them, remarking "tell them I came and no one answered/That I kept my word."

The aesthetic appeal of the poem is largely a result of  the dramatic irony which is used with remarkable force  to produce a  spine-chilling effect. The readers know that the castle is peopled with ghostly inmates and that the horse- rider is just separated from them so tantalisingly by a mere door. Although the traveller can sense their presence, "and he felt in his heart their strangeness" he is forced to leave confused and perplexed without making contact with them thinking that there is no one in the castle.

The mystery is heightened by the poet's use of a few choice words  to create eerie supernatural atmospheric effects:

"Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller's call."

The true beauty of the poem lies in the fact that it defies a complete and definitive explanation. Many questions remain unanswered: who is the "traveller?" why does he stop by at the castle? who are the ghosts in the castle? and most importantly  what do the lines "Tell them I came, and no one answered/That I kept my word" signify?

Walter de la Mare's "The Listeners" like Keats' grecian urn  "dost tease out of thought" and like it seems to say to us,

'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'

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