The House With Nobody In It

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest
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For some reason, this poem has worked its way into my heart, probably because it so aptly expresses how I feel every time I see an abandoned house.  I don’t normally consider myself to be much of a “romantic,” but when I see an abandoned or run-down house, I always wonder about the people who have lived there and how it came to its present state. Nothing tugs at my heart more than an empty house does. This may be because, over the course of the last thirty-two years of married life, we have moved a total of twenty-eight times. In the course of our many relocations, we have walked through, and lived in, many houses. Some of these houses have been well cared for and others have not.  It always saddens me to walk through a house that has not been taken care of.  Somehow, it seems to me, that a house almost has a “soul”;  not literally, of course, but maybe as a representation of all who lived there.  Just as a historical site is remembered for all that transpired there, a house represents the lives of the families who lived and loved within those four walls.

And like “The House With Nobody In It,” our lives are also empty without the life-giving presence and power of the Holy Spirit. For those who have already seen this posted on my Facebook page, I apologize for the repeat.  I originally came across this poem on another blog. For those who really enjoy poetry, you may want to give the blog, “The Last Minstrel,” a look. The link for it is at the bottom of this post and includes an auditory rendering of this poem which is quite well done. I hope you enjoy this as much as I have.

The House With Nobody In It

by Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)

Whenever I walk to Suffern along the Erie track
I go by a poor old farmhouse with its shingles broken and black.
I suppose I’ve passed it a hundred times, but I always stop for a minute
And look at the house, the tragic house, the house with nobody in it.

I never have seen a haunted house, but I hear there are such things;
That they hold the talk of spirits, their mirth and sorrowings.
I know this house isn’t haunted, and I wish it were, I do;
For it wouldn’t be so lonely if it had a ghost or two.

This house on the road to Suffern needs a dozen panes of glass,
And somebody ought to weed the walk and take a scythe to the grass.
It needs new paint and shingles, and the vines should be trimmed and tied;
But what it needs the most of all is some people living inside.

If I had a lot of money and all my debts were paid
I’d put a gang of men to work with brush and saw and spade.
I’d buy that place and fix it up the way it used to be
And I’d find some people who wanted a home and give it to them free.

Now, a new house standing empty, with staring window and door,
Looks idle, perhaps, and foolish, like a hat on its block in the store.
But there’s nothing mournful about it; it cannot be sad and lone
For the lack of something within it that it has never known.

But a house that has done what a house should do, a house that has sheltered life,
That has put its loving wooden arms around a man and his wife,
A house that has echoed a baby’s laugh and held up his stumbling feet,
Is the saddest sight, when it’s left alone, that ever your eyes could meet.

So whenever I go to Suffern along the Erie track
I never go by the empty house without stopping and looking back,
Yet it hurts me to look at the crumbling roof and the shutters fallen apart,
For I can’t help thinking the poor old house is a house with a broken heart.

(“The House with Nobody in It” was originally published in Trees and Other Poems. Joyce Kilmer. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1914)


Copyright © 2011 by Susan E. Johnson
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