What are the poetic devices used in the poem "The Listeners" by Walter de la Mare?
Walter de la Mare uses numerous sound devices and literary devices in this intriguing poem. He uses a consistent rhyme scheme in which every other line rhymes. However, while he uses strong rhymes of single-syllable words for most of the poem, he ends the poem on a near rhyme—stone/gone—which is a technique that creates less certainty and corresponds to the unresolved feeling the poem imparts. Some examples of alliteration are "forest's ferny floor," "louder and lifted his head," and "silence surged softly backward." He uses onomatopoeia with the word champed. By omitting the word and from the phrase "their strangeness, their stillness," he makes use of asyndeton.
Probably the most striking literary device the poet uses in the poem is the remarkable sensory imagery. Readers get a strong visual picture with descriptions such as "thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair," "'neath the starred and leafy sky," and "plunging hoofs." Other descriptions allow readers to hear the actions of the poem: "knocking on the moonlit door," "air stirred and shaken by the lonely Traveller's call," and "sound of iron on stone." Interestingly, he also describes things that don't happen or that cannot be literally possible: "No head from the leaf-fringed sill leaned over and looked into his grey eyes," and "heard . . . how the silence surged softly backward."
The poem uses devices that stories use, including dialogue, point of view, and suspense. Interestingly, the poem allows the reader to experience the action from the perspective not only of the Traveller, but also of the "phantom listeners." The fact that the reader knows what the Traveller doesn't creates suspense and makes use of dramatic irony. The reader expects that the two parties to this potential meeting will, in fact, connect in some way, but the poem ends without that taking place. Readers are left with a sense of ambiguity: They don't know why the Traveller came or exactly who the "phantom listeners" are.
In "The Listeners," a mysterious poetic narrative, Walter de la Mare incorporates the sound devices poets often use with some techniques that are more common in stories.
check Approved by eNotes Editorial
The imagery of silence is significant. Walter de la Mare fills the house with images of absence, silence, and even death. The listeners are "phantoms." Taken literally, this could mean they are dead or absent, but it could also imply they are there in the house and just refuse to answer the Traveller. Even though the Traveller might think people are actually home, those people might as well be phantoms because they refuse to answer him. The listeners are in the "quiet of the moonlight" and the Traveller is the "voice from the world of men." This imagery suggests the listeners are part of nature itself and the traveler is a lone man asking questions but receiving no replies. The latter is more philosophical because it suggests a man asking questions by himself.
Taken literally, this is a man asking for communication at the door of a house. One could interpret the poem in a broader metaphorical way, though, by arguing the poem shows how every individual seeks communication and acknowledgment from others. It is a social yearning we all have. It also describes the experience of how every individual asks questions (of other people, God, or nature) but does not always receive a response. So, metaphorically speaking, the Traveler is anyone who seeks these things. In this way, the entire poem is a literary device: a metaphor of how every individual reaches out for answers.
As the Traveler leaves, the listeners wait for the noise to fade away. The poet uses alliteration to suggest the sound of a light breeze, whispering, or a susurration:
And how the silence surged softly backward
check Approved by eNotes Editorial