As humans, we are configured to strive to get the most out of our lives, no matter how that may be. However, that often means we succeed at the sacrifice of others. Humans are not perfect, however the mistakes that many people make at some point in his or her life are unforgivable. Many believe in a form of afterlife. Those who do also believe that one must be deserving and do good during one’s time here on earth to earn admittance into that afterlife. The poem, “The Listeners,” written by Walter de la Mare, is attempting to teach its readers that we all must be our kindest, greatest selves during every single moment within our precious lives on earth. He exhibits this by showing that those who attempt to venture off into eternal life and happiness are never worthy of admittance. Therefore, we must renovate our lifestyles and truly begin to achieve our greatest potential as a group, with no major complications, in order to deserve a spot in eternal paradise.
The setting in which the poem takes place is a crucial part of understanding what the speaker is attempting to teach its readers through the poem. The Traveller comes upon a house with “only a host of phantom listeners”(Line 13) inside, “thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,/ That goes down to the empty hall”(17-18). The reader is immediately able to recognize that nobody else inhabits that particular part of the house at that time, considering the stairwell leads to an “empty hall.” This could be due to the phantom listeners not allowing anybody to climb the stairway to heaven, thus explaining why the hall is empty, having nobody worthy enough to be in its presence. It is also known that the phantom listeners are “thronging” the dark stair, crowding around it to protect it from outsiders. They are doing everything in their power to guard that staircase, as it is the one thing many inhabitants of earth have always dreamed of, yet they are always much too flawed to be granted admittance to climb the staircase. These phantoms are essentially the judges as to who can enter heaven. In addition to the interior of the house, the surroundings of the house have many key features as well. The horse in which the Traveller voyaged upon “in the silence champed the grass/ Of the forest’s ferny floor”(3-4). The words “champed” and “in the silence” give off a very calm, careless notion, as if the horse does not wish to worry about what its rider is getting himself into. Horses have always been known and used as a major form of transportation, especially in previous times. Through this knowledge, we can conclude that the horse represents the passage from the material world to the supernatural world. Considering so many try and fail to be allowed entrance into eternal life, one could only suppose the horse would be a bit weary of the situation. Additionally, when the Traveller is nearing the house, a bird flies “up out of the turret,/ Above the Traveller’s head”(5-6). Considering the bird flew over the Traveller’s head, not just in any nonspecific direction, we know that the bird plays a role within the afterlife admittance process. Birds are often depicted as spies, so this bird that flew atop the Traveller could very well be spying on the Traveller, judging his worthiness, or, in most cases, unworthiness. Throughout the poem, the setting, both indoors and outdoors, plays a key role in its interpretation.
de la Mare follows a strict rhyme scheme within the lines of two and four, six and eight, ten and twelve, and so on. This happy, sing-song-like rhyme scheme embodies the cheerful, lighthearted views that those who inhabit the material world have regarding the idea of going to heaven once their time comes. However, the lack of a rhyme within lines one and three, five and seven, and the like represents a lack of consistency within humans and their beliefs. Humans are constantly faltering in their path to success and their striving to care for others before themselves, and slip-ups are very common. This shows that there is a great deal of improvement that mortal humans must work on in order to be worthy of a welcoming into eternal afterlife. This confusing inconsistency within people’s beliefs is the explanation as to why the afterlife is such a valuable privilege; those who are strong enough to stay on the path to prosperity for all are the ones who have earned entrance into heaven. Through this unique rhyme scheme, de la Mare is able to skillfully portray that those who deserve entrance into immortality must never falter in their faithfulness to themselves and others.
Since the average human is truly undeserving of eternal afterlife, it is extremely necessary to learn how the human race can greatly improve upon itself. To help with this confusion, the speaker provides reasoning, through the dialogue of the Traveller, behind why these people are not deserving of nirvana. Understanding that the poem is alluding to an alternative afterlife, we can come to the conclusion that the Traveller has died and passed on into a different world, in between heaven and earth. The poem begins with a very harsh “‘Is there anybody there?’”(1) from the Traveller, “knocking on the moonlit door”(2). Rather than politely knocking on the door, the Traveller makes a rather rude introduction. This clearly depicts the mortal human’s aggressive and demanding tendencies. In order to be deserving of a privileged afterlife, we must learn to free ourselves of all conflicts of our mind and understand the importance of kindness and compassion for others. We must put others before us, rather than ourselves before others. In addition to knocking rashly once, the Traveller then forcefully knocks again: “And he smote upon the door a second time;/ ‘Is there anybody there?’ he said”(7-8). These two knocks upon the door happen within a few lines of each other, which translates to about few seconds within the poem’s time frame. Through this repetition of phrases, the speaker demonstrates the worldly human’s impatient lifestyle; everything is wanted immediately as fast as possible or else he or she will be gravely disappointed. Even worse is the fact that the Traveller failed to realize his unnecessarily aggressive attitude the first time, and made no effort to fix his mistake the second time. The speaker is attempting to break us from this mundane way of living by showing the Traveller’s failed journey to the afterlife, revealing the consequences of this condescending lifestyle. Later in the poem, when the Traveller is beginning to give up and accept defeat on his afterlife audition, he angrily raps upon the door and says something to the listeners inside the house: “For he suddenly smote on the door, even/ Louder, and lifted his head:-/ ‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,/ That I kept my word,’ he said”(25-28). Through the expression, “I kept my word,” one can only think that the Traveller came to an agreement with someone else; in this case, it would be God. However, the fact that he furiously “smote” upon the door demonstrates that he was angry that he did not get his side of the deal with God. This proves that the Traveller only agreed to the deal because of his self-benefit, rather than it being the right thing to do. This concept directly correlates to the reasoning behind many of our kind actions; we are all under the false understanding that as long as we do honorable things to promote the common people here on earth, we will automatically go to Heaven. Through the Traveller’s aggressive tone and behavior, we are taught that we need to look out for the well being of others before ourselves not because we must to do so in order to earn a spot in Heaven, but because it is the genuine, righteous thing to do. If we can accomplish this, we can truly accomplish anything. Through just a few lines of dialogue within the poem, the speaker teaches us a great deal about what it really means to deserve total nirvana.
If everyone in the world began to look out for the common good not because if he does he will achieve afterlife, but instead because it will make the world we live in today a much greater place to be; everything would change for the better. This, along with acceptance into afterlife once our time is up here on earth, would make the strongest, most beautiful package in the world. We could live in happiness forever, and who would not like that? The only question is, where do I sign?