“The Listeners” by Walter de la Mare is a narrative poem that is open to multiple interpretations. In “The Listeners,” a lone Traveller arrives at a dwelling in the forest. The poem takes place at night, suggesting a supernatural element to the story.
The Traveller knocks on the door. There is no answer, but the dwelling is not entirely empty. The author quickly brings the reader's attention to the phantom listeners the title suggests. The listeners are never clearly described by the author, nor do they ever respond to the Traveller’s insistent knocking. The Traveller suspects someone of being there as evidenced by his insistent knocking and a feeling in his heart of “strangeness.”
De la Mare embraces an indefiniteness and aura of fantasy in all of his work. One explanation of the poem is a metaphor for the reader’s journey through life, with all of its unanswered questions. The questioning individual calls out for an answer and is met with silence. In this explanation, the dwelling the Traveller seeks to enter is potentially a stand-in for society, community, home or the self. This explanation is supported by de la Mare’s body of work, which often dealt with dreams, rare states of mind and pursuit of the transcendent. De la Mare’s work is often geared towards children.