The listeners are a vague group that listens, but does not respond. They could be ghosts, words like ‘phantom’ might indicate so. All of the listeners hear ‘that voice from the world of men,’ which seems to imply that they are of a different world.
The sentence ‘thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair, that goes down to the empty hall’ paints the vivid picture, in my mind, of a haunted house filled with spirits.Finally, and most difficult to understand, are the characters referred to as ‘them’. The Traveller calls out to the listeners: ‘Tell them I came, and no one answered, that I kept my word.
‘Who are ‘them,’ exactly? Why had the Traveller promised to come to them? And why aren’t they there now? Even if we are pretty sure the listeners are ghosts, it’s anybody’s guess as to who ‘them’ refers to.The poem is physically set in a moonlit wood at nighttime, which helps set the eerie tone of the poem. The house in the middle of the forest is no less creepy, described as ‘lone,’ ’empty,’ ‘shadowy,’ and ‘still.’ In every part of the poem, the reader experiences an unnerving chill right along with the Traveller.Can the visitor be lady death in the land of the living? It is promised to all of us that she comes, but when she does no-one wants to or can answer?Our Traveller is alone, horse notwithstanding. His isolation is stressed by the fact that he is called ‘lonely.’ When he calls out and knows the listeners hear him but don’t respond, he feels ‘in his heart their strangeness.’They are not the same as him, on seemingly any level.
Whatever these listeners are, they’re unreachable. The Traveller can’t connect. His quest is ultimately futile and he leaves the house as he was when he found it: alone.Another theme involves the experience of mystery in our lives. Like the Traveller in the poem, we’re full of questions that don’t have answers. Life’s big questions (‘Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? Is there an afterlife?’) have been debated for centuries, with no satisfying resolutions. The poem seems to address the frustration of not knowing and the impulse to seek answers in spite of it.
Poems aren’t equations, so there are no exact answers. Poetry is, in many ways, a subjective medium that speaks to different people in different ways.