The House with Nobody In It
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
To 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 sorrowing.
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 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 know.
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.
Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918) was an American writer and poet mainly remembered for a short poem titled “Trees”, which was published in the collection “Trees and Other Poems” in 1914.
Thank you to our reader Debra G. and her sister from Connecticut who sent us this lovely poem. They are restoring an old house together.
Although the house in the poem may be run down, it is still alive and loved. So many people don’t understand old buildings and never take the time to realize that a house is more than just a building. When looking at an old house, take some time and allow yourself to gaze into its soul and imagine the people that lived there throughout the years.
Even though the seasons have passed as have its many residents, the house has lived on with secrets of the past buried within its walls. Now years of memories, some happy, some sad, silently echo through its halls.
Old homes were built and designed with pride. Sadly this is not always respected.
John Ruskin (1819-1900) expresses it very well in the following:
“. . . Old buildings are not ours. They belong, partly to those who built them, and partly to the generations of mankind who are to follow us. The dead still have their right in them: That which they labored for . . . we have no right to obliterate.”
“What we ourselves have built, we are at liberty to throw down. But what other men gave their strength, and wealth, and life to accomplish, their right over it does not pass away with their death . . .”
by John Ruskin 1849, “The Seven Lamps of Architecture ” chapter 6
I read this poem 30 years ago and it has been my favorite poem ever since. Joyce Kilmer has written it in such a way that makes me feel sad for an old worn down house like the picture above. (This poem can many times be associated with an old person instead of a house.)
Janice Schane says
I believe the “house with no body in it” is by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Not Kilmer.
I checked because I had no idea it was Kilmer but it was. The poem just pulls you in and holds you there just thinking of the possibilities.
think you better check again
It was definitely written by Joyce Kilmer.
I stumbled on this… rendition? .,.of my favorite poem. The fact Kilmer is known for ‘Trees’ does not reflect his ouvre.
Surely someone else replied or commented, this wad written by Joyce Kilmer. However whoever sent this to the site didn’t sent an exact copy. Whether it’s the difficulty in printing properly onto a website or general sloppiness.
The original is seven stanzas the first five have two lines to each, and one of them ends in known, not know.
The last two stanzas are one sentence each.
And I missed editing WAD
Trisha Chaffin says
Sad, but lovely none the less. I’ve always liked KILMER. He had insight that some do not.
We had a book each year in grade school of Poems and Pictures. The pictures were famous paintings and a biography of the artists poems also had biographies of the poets.
Although this poem is wistful and always makes me a little sad, it has always been one of my favorites. And when I see a similar house in travels, it always brings this poem to mind.
David A Biermann says
This has been one of my favorite poems for years my father used to recite it to me. I actually keep a shrunken down copy of it in my wallet. Another favorite of mine is the road Not Taken by Robert Frost which has pretty much describe my life. But as far as Kilmer’s poem how often say we are but curators of all of our stuff for the Next Generation. But I’m always most impressed with something that has lasted for so long. And I often say we don’t know anything until we reach the age 100. I am always impressed with such age of Machinery as well. And when I see a house that is a rental that is ill maintained I often feel sorry for the house
My mother read this to me many times when I was a child. She lived in the Valley and I think it brought back memories of her childhood. This month I re-read this to my mother as she was preparing for her journey to her next home. Mom loved to hear it and I loved reciting it. This poem and “I Remember, I Remember” always bring me a sorrowful joy if there is such a thing. Marilyn was the best mother ever.
Diane Lorino says
My favorite poem since early 1970s where is that house . I live near suffers. I have read it was renovated. If you could send me address. I would appreciate it!
Diane Lorino says
Sorry I meant Suffern!
Ken Roginski says
Hi Diane – I just went on google maps. It is at 465 Main St. Spotswood NJ and is for sale!!google maps I want to insert an photo but I don’t think I can.
Alan Huntress says
This address makes no sense at all. It is over an hour drive from Spotswood to Suffern. Kilmer lived for some 30 years in Mahwah, NJ which borders Suffern. My childhood home was on the border of Suffern and Mahwah, just over 200 yds from the Erie RR tracks. The Franklin Turnpike parallels the Erie RR in Mahwah which is more likely where he was walking “along the Erie tracks”.
Ken Roginski says
No – that is just a picture of a house I know of that seemed appropriate for the poem. It would be wonderful to know of the original house but there are many houses like this throughout the world that provide the same feeling.
Bob Dayton says
When I was in 5th grade, now some 67 years ago this poem by Joyce Kilmer was one that we had to memorize.
I have never forgotten the first stanza. Miss Eva Peterson my teacher I hold in fond memory. I used to ride the
Erie Railroad from Ramsey to Suffern often and always looked for such an old house.
Eric Smith says
Hello Bob, I also grew up in Ramsey and recall learning that poem in Miss Peterson’s 5th grade class. I too was very fond of Miss Peterson. Did you in addition learn the words and music for Trees, the best known poem by Joyce Kilmer. Each member of my class had to stand and sing the words individually while Miss Peterson played the piano. A lesson in poise and self-confidence.
The house was located at 150 Franklin Turnpike, Mahwah and less than a mile from where Joyce Kilmer lived at one time. Growing up, I knew it as a restaurant called Nobody’s Inn. In 2007, a new restaurant opened called Roxanne’s and the building was renovated/modernized.
Yes, Ron, but Nobody’s InN named it after Joyce Kilmer poem, the house that he wrote the poem about was across the street from Nobody’s Inn, built in the same decade and very similar to it….. by the time Nobody’s Inn named the restaurant, they did that to honor the original house which sat directly across the street which was already demolished by then.
I loved reading this poem as a child growing up in North Carolina. My family later moved to New Brunswick, NJ. There is a street named named Joyce Kilmer Avenue in town. I found out that Kilmer was born and lived on that street until he went to war and was killed in battle. Actually the city has preserved his home.
This house in Spotswood, NJ could not be seen from Suffern! The house was in Mahwah, NJ, which neighbors Suffern, NY and that’s why Joyce Kilmer was WALKING to Suffern along the Erie track! I’ve done it myself, walked from Mahwah to Suffern along the Erie track. Mahwah, NJ for years had a restaurant “ Nobody’s Inn” which they made into a restaurant, and the house Joyce Kilmer was referring to in this poem was across the street, before it was demolished. It was not located in Spotswood, NJ….no one could walk along the train tracks from there all the way to Suffern! But from Mahwah, NJ, where Joyce Kilmer lived for quite a few years you could easily from Mahwah to Suffern along the Erie train tracks…….thank you, Cathy
Ken Roginski says
Should have explained this better but the house that I used in the example was in Spotswood just because it fit the story. Thanks for the info you provided – good to know!