What are the different similes and metaphors used in the poem "The Listeners," by Walter De La Mare?

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jmj616 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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"The Listeners," by Walter De La Mare is remarkably lacking in its use of metaphor and simile.  The poet describes almost everything in this poem with straightforward, literal description.

The door of the house is "moonlit"; the window-sill is "leaf-fringed"; there is a "dark stair" and an "empty hall"; when the horse walks away from the house, we merely hear "the sound of iron [horseshoes] on stone." 

One of the only metaphors in the poem is near the end, where the poet describes how "the silence surged softly backward."  Silence, of course, cannot surge; rather, the poet is comparing silence to an ocean wave that surges "softly backward" as it heads back out to sea after crashing on the beach.

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e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Walter De la Mare's "The Listeners" uses the metaphor as its central conceit, as indicated in the title, though the poem does not present many discrete examples of metaphor or simile. 

The most significant metaphor in the poem is the one that suggests that "phantom listeners" exist in the house where the narrator comes to knock and receives no response. Silence or emptiness thus becomes identified with phantoms in an extended metaphor. 

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
 
The comparison of silence/emptiness to phantoms is used for a large portion of the poem.
 
Certain other parts of the poem utilize personification. Although we might be tempted to stretch the conceptual definition of metaphor to include personification, we should probably resist that urge and identify phrases like "Their stillness answered his cry" as straight-forward examples of personification.
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