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 ...
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.