Do you remember this poem from your high school days? I love it because of its descriptive phrases -- lines that truly conjure up a picture that could be painted.
But it's not just the pictures you can see, even more so it is the sounds, or lack of them, that create the mystery. There is the knocking on the door, the horse champing the grasses, the loud fluttering of the bird disturbed by the knocking and the shouted words. In contrast, see the lonely Traveler and hear the silence from within the lonely house -- the house which had "phantom listeners" who stood thronging the dark stairs and the empty hall. Such a contrast was there that the air was stirred and shaken -- truly the Sound of Silence.
Yet the strange stillness was disturbed by the soft sound of his horse moving to crop more grass; such a soft sound as would be largely unheard in a normal moment, but this slight movement contrasts harshly with the next even louder shouting of the Traveler as he not just knocks, but smites the door.
Now comes the heart of the mystery. What do his words mean? To whom is he speaking? The "phantom listeners"... who are they? The Traveler had made a promise to someone. He kept his side of the bargain by coming; but "no one answered". There is some satisfaction in the fact that he kept his word, but his words echoed through the stillness of the house.
The silence returns. Perhaps unnerved, unsatisfied, the Traveler leaves and they heard him go. His retreat shatters the silence again as his horse takes off at a gallop sparking like flint on the stone, leaving behind him the softly, surging silence. A silence that seems to grow and will go on forever because there is no answer; no answer from the Listeners and no answer from the poet.
The poet calls the poem "The Listeners" yet its content seems to be more about the Traveler. So perhaps we could find some explanation by concentrating on who the Listeners were.
Perhaps they represent the souls of a woodsman and his family who one day saved the life of a wounded soldier by hiding him in their cottage. They take their life in their hands knowing that the enemy will find them sooner or later. Yet they keep the soldier until he is able to move again. The soldier, gravely in their debt, knows the danger he has put them in. But before he departs he rashly promises to return with help for his rescuers.
He has no way of knowing that his wounds would overcome him once more and that his own army would find him and hospitalize him until he is well enough to move again.
When he is released, he returns to the lonely cottage deep in the woods, but he is too late. They are gone -- willingly or by force. He has no way of knowing. He kept his word, but it was not enough.
The above is my contribution for "L" day in ABC WEDNESDAY. For more interesting, informative, exciting and educational entries please click on the link above . Kudos to Mrs. Nesbitt and her team for continuing this theme into its fifth year and ninth round.