Why is Walter de La Mare’s poem called “The Listeners” instead of the “The Traveller?”

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beateach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Walter de La Mare immediately calls attention to the “phantom listeners” described in the poem by using the title “The Listeners” instead of “The Traveller.” We first meet the traveler on dark lonely night as he approaches a dwelling that has turrets and ivy covered window ledges. “Is there anybody there? Said the Traveller, Knocking on the moonlight door.” Walter de La Mare immediately has the reader thinking about who might answer. The reader knows who the traveller is but who is he calling to? 

After the traveller makes a second attempt to get an answer, the poet explains that there is silence still.

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:

He is speaking of the spirits of those who lived in the dwelling and the traveller as the only one left alive. The troubled traveller calls into the house one more time before he quickly leaves telling the listeners that he kept his promise to return. Silence once again surrounds the phantoms. The author wants the reader to question who the listeners might be, this is the mystery of the poem.

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