The capitalization of Traveller is an indication of some unknown and unidentified mythic importance. The only thing we know about him is that he made a promise to come to this home, and kept his word. He arrived by horse, and when his knocks bring seemingly no physical response, he appears to be invested with keen powers of intuition: he very strongly senses the presence of the listeners inside the house despite their silence and stillness. That intuitive awareness also brings the assurance that any further attempts to gain entry will be fruitless. Before taking his leave, he appeals to the listeners to deliver a message to some unidentified “them.” The message is that he kept his promise by showing up, but no one came to greet him so he left.
The listeners are phantom figures behind the door upon which the Traveller knocks. They hear him and are aware of his presence, but do nothing to make their own presence known. Despite this, the Traveller intuitively apprehends that they are listening. They give the Traveller no indication that they hear him or will acquiesce to his request to pass along his message. They do not see the Traveller leave, and they know he is gone only by the fading sound of his steed being ridden into the distance.
The Traveller's Horse
The horse which the Traveller rode to the home is always right off to the side munching on grass. It is how the horse’s presence is signified by sound that makes the animal an important character in the poem. The ambient sounds produced by the Traveller's horse, and one bird that makes a brief appearance, serve to underscore the eerie, otherworldly mood produced by the lack of noise coming from inside the home. Sounds that should go relatively unnoticed among the usual clatter of life serve to take on greater significance when they point out how different the world seems when that clatter is absent. The horse also becomes the means of transmission to the listeners that the Traveller has really left. The purposeful clapping of its hooves upon the hard stone path provides a symbolic contrast to the more irresolute sounds of its actions in the soft grass.
The enigmatic “them” to whom the Traveller asks the listeners to deliver the message that he kept his word is mentioned only once. In a poem filled with mystery and unanswered questions from beginning to end, the most inscrutable mystery may well be the question of who “they” are and why keeping his word on a promise he made to “them” is so important.
The Listeners Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Listeners is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.