The Listeners

The Listeners Literary Elements

Speaker or Narrator, and Point of View

Third-person omniscient speaker

Form and Meter

The poem has no consistent meter, though certain parts follow particular metrical patterns, and the poem is composed of quartets following an ABCB rhyme scheme

Metaphors and Similes

The use of metaphor in “The Listeners” is quite subtle, and nearly always pertains to sound or silence, for example: “the air stirred and shaken / By the lonely Traveller’s cry” and “the silence surged softly backwards."

Alliteration and Assonance

De la Mare uses alliteration and assonance to heighten the effect of key moments in the poem. For example, the plethora of “o” and, in the latter line, “f” sounds in the first two rhymed lines “Knocking on the moonlit door” and “Of the forests ferny floor.” Likewise, the “s” and “o” sounds of the last quartet: “Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup / And the sound of iron on stone, / And how the silence surged softly backward, / When the plunging hoofs were gone.”


The fact that the only “answer” given in the poem is a silent “stillness” is deeply ironic, though not in the comical sense in which the term irony is often applied.


Mood-oriented and possibly supernatural poetry


A secluded house in the middle of the woods, though the lack of specificity in time or place gives the setting an otherworldly feel


Eerie, ominous, and also distinctly “poetic,” with elevated diction (“smote,” “champed,” “dwelt," etc.) and conspicuous poetic devices, such as rhyme

Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonist the Traveller; there is no antagonist

Major Conflict

The Traveller’s attempt to elicit some kind of response from the listeners



The names given to the Traveller and the listeners, as well as the title of the poem, foreshadow their roles in the poem.



The sole physical detail given about the Traveller, his “gray eyes,” is a possible allusion to the goddess Athena in Greek mythology, just as the Traveller himself is a possible allusion to Odysseus. In a similar vein, the description of the listeners as “a host of phantom listeners” who are “thronging,” as well as their (possible) inability (as opposed to unwillingness) to speak, evokes the interactions with the dead in both the Odyssey and in Dante’s Inferno. In the former, the dead must drink the blood of the sacrifice offered by Odysseus before they can answer his questions; in the latter, the dead can speak only when addressed by the narrator and protagonist.

Metonymy and Synecdoche


The listeners could be said to be a personification of the silence and emptiness of the house, or of death.