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.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Joyce Kilmer's poem The House with Nobody in It

29 Comments

  1. jim oneil says:

    My mother read this to us as a small child. Everytime I read it now i well up with tears

  2. V. Parrott says:

    I also had to memorize this people when I was in the 7th grade in Dalhart, Texas. For some reason I have always remembered the poem, not all of it but the first paragraph. Decided to see if I could find it and sure enough here it is. Sad but lovely.

  3. Dr. Leeanna Hill says:

    I have admired this poem every since I read it in a library book. This poem reminds me of all the empty houses in my neighborhood. Many have been torn down, but I always think about someone lived in it perhaps years ago. I live in East St. Louis, Ill This is a poem that tends to search the soul of man. Joyce may your spirit rest in peace. Your gift came from God.

  4. Debby Falterman says:

    While rummaging through some papers, I found this poem that was hand-written to my Mother from her Mother. She went on to tell my Mother that she could relate to this house when you passed a certain empty house in their little town. My Grandmother had attached a picture of the empty house. My Mother had given her the Book “The Best Loved Poems of the American People” in December 1970.
    My Grandmother loved poems and recited them to us all the time. I am so blessed that I found this poem, written in my Grandmother’s handwriting. Both she and my Mother are deceased. It such a shame that I never learned much poetry in school and my children and grandchildren haven’t a clue. I will pass this on to them, After I Learn to Recite It!

    Thank you so much for such beautiful poetry.

  5. Gloria H. Bess says:

    I have been searching for this poem. I learned a portion of this poem when I was in elementary school.
    I always think of it when travelling on the train.

  6. Leon Butler says:

    I was twelve years old. My speech teacher asked me to represent our school in the county declamation contest. I agreed, and chose this poem. I recited it and won second place (a blue ribbon, I still have.) I like poetry, and this poem has stuck in my memory all these years. I am eighty three years old.

  7. Debi says:

    My brother and I take mom riding a lot through the country. She always comments on how sad the abandoned houses are and what memories they must hold. I stumbled across this poem by accident and vowed to learn it so I could recite it the next time we came upon an abandoned house. It has become my favorite poem.

  8. Gayle Hoy says:

    I too learned this poem from my mother. As a child we often passed a broken hearted house on our way into New York City from the Kingston. Mimicking my mother’s recitation of this poem, each and every time we passed by the house, eventually lead to my memorizing it too. I beliceve it is an anaolgy of life: how our past is a part of us and influences us. The house demands notice and is also recognized for its contributions and past. 🙂

  9. Elaine Ramsdell Seba says:

    I had to learn this poem, too, in sixth grade at Parker School in Lexington, MA, 1939. Miss Margaret Keefe was my teacher and the whole class had the assignment of memorizing this poem. I really enjoyed reciting it in front of my class. I still tear up when I read it. During my youth I thought of this poem every time I saw an old farmhouse, especially in New Hampshire. I have passed this poem on to my own children.

  10. CATHERINE DAVIS says:

    MY MOM(NELLIE RAY)RECITED THIS POEM AS A YOUNG GIRL IN
    SCHOOL IN NEEDVILLE,TX. SHE WON THE CONTEST. I HEARD HER RECITE THIS POEM IN HER LATE 70’S AND SHE REMEMBERED IT ALL. SHE PASSED AWAY IN MAY”05, AND THE HOME SHE LIVED IN, NOW HAS NOBODY IN IT. I WISH I HAD RECITED THIS POEM AT HER FUNERAL BECAUSE SHE LOVED IT!!!!

  11. alice dailey says:

    I used to recite in plays and contests in school and this is one of my prize poems. I’ve always loved it and include this in poems I give as gifts. It’s so sad to think of this house that did it’s job and now is alone and so true to life, Isn’t it?

  12. Vivian Clayton says:

    I heard this poem for the very first time last night. It was recited by a woman who is 87 years old. My grandparents lived in Suffern, and as a child we would walk the country roads after dinner in the summer,
    when the light was long and lingered. We would cross a wooden bridge that spanned that Erie track and there was, indeed, an old abandoned farm house that we kids would call ‘haunted’….I wonder if it was the same house…….

  13. Rita says:

    I remember having to recite this poem in elementary school and now 40 years later my interpretation of the poem is much different from elementary school. I know someone who had a house and never rented it out or allowed anyone to live in it. I passed by this house everyday for 15 years and would always think about the poem “The House with Nobody in It”. I felt exactly the way Kilmer may have felt. I used the analogy that like this house, life is to be lived and not wasted; don’t have a “body and mind” and leave it idle; utilize your god given talents or they will become like the house on Suffern.(Tragic)

  14. Jordan says:

    I am doing a reserch project and I can’t find any literary criticism and I don’t really know what the poem means so if any body has any idea please explain and post thanks

  15. joyce says:

    I too have loved this poem ever since I heard it in grammar school I always felt sad for the house.The house is longing for a family to live in it again. It remembers the days when there was love and laughter echoing from it’s walls

  16. Lois Mitchell says:

    I’ve loved this poem since elementary school, when I was required to memorize it for english class. I lived in southwestern Connecticut and went through Suffern, NY years later looking for the house!! The memory of the words gripped me as much as my other favorite, “The Barefoot Boy” by John Greenleaf Whittier. To me it means we should always look back, and of course, try to make things better.

  17. Margeaux says:

    My grandma is now 85 and some dementia has set in, but of all the things that she remembers is this poem. She can recite it when everything else is upside down. This is what I will read at her funeral as she has told it to me so many times.

  18. K Barber says:

    My Mum read poetry to us almost every night, from what I think is the same red book. I always loved this one, and still had most of it memorized until just recently. (I’m getting old, ok?) My imagination took me to that house time and time again, and the house looked sad, lonely. It imparts the idea that places are still alive when it is clear that something good and decent took place.
    I still have the same love for some special places and things that made a difference in my life. I feel lucky to have had a mum who knew a lot about literature, and by reading to us, we all learned to read well before kindergarten. I think it’s early brain-training.

  19. David Arturi says:

    As kids in Brooklyn, NY, roller-skating on the slate sidewalks, or sitting on the stoops, we recited snatches of the poem. The haunting refrain of the sad house with nobody in it left us petrified of ghosts. But, what always mystified me–and why I liked this poem above many others–was Kilmer’s lonely and metaphysical walk along the Erie railroad tracks. Why did he want to walk to Suffern, NY from his home in New Jersey? That question has never been answered to my satisfaction. It is a rhetorical question, so please don’t delete this comment. Joyce Kilmer should be recognized as, and given the honorable title of, America’s poet laureate.

  20. Janeyi says:

    I support this poem to the deep bottom. I mean I am just as lonely, well yea..I can’t be as lonely..there are human beings around me..but I feel I am as lonely as it. Its a house, in this world a house deserves better than anyone.

  21. Patti Engle says:

    I remember this poem in a red book when I was a child. I just loved it and made my sister read it to me over and over again. I memorized the first stanza and by the time I could read it myself the book was no where to be found…. I finally have the entire poem … it has stuck with me all these years. I plan to read it to all of my grandchildren.

  22. Jessica says:

    I think this poem is very nice. It taught me that we need to show solidarity to to other people that don`t have. I am going to say this poem to my class in english class on monday. I hope my class enjoys it! I really enjoyed this poem.

  23. Winn Horn says:

    My older brother, above all else, was a career soldier in the U.S. Army. He gave this poem to me one evening after we had not seen each other for a number of years, and as we shared a drink as an older and a younger adult, trying to get to know each other again. As I read it for the first time, my eyes welled up with emotion, and he said, “I just wanted to see what kind of man you have become. I see everything I need to know.” I have been looking for this poem for over 20 years. Thank you.

  24. Nicholas Kossoudji says:

    I was a 14 year old boy when I memorized this poem in the eighth grade for English Literature class. I remember practicing reciting it at home, before presenting it to the class. I loved it the first time I read it and have never forgotten it. I am now 57 years old.

  25. tanya says:

    How sad that our lives should become as old houses ~ but there is hope yet! Too often we leave things behind without the realization of their importance in our lives ~ “to look at the house, the tragic house, the house with nobody in it” ~

  26. Elizaabeth Garris says:

    I learned this poem in grammar school many years ago and recently interpreted it for my college Oral Interpretation class. Analyzing it, I realized that Kilmer was telling us all to look back at those who are abandoned and who have broken hearts and fix them up. At least, that’s what it says to me. He was a remarkable man and he died with so many poems unwritten. Our loss!

  27. Bertie Whiskin says:

    My thanks to you. My sister and I also learned this poem in elemetary school. Unfortunately, time erased a couple of the verses and it has been driving us mad. We were both touched by Joyce Kilmer’s words and the picture they imprinted in our minds. We wanted to share it with our next generation. I am elated to find it printed in full – it is going to make an excellent Christmas gift. Thank you again!

  28. M.J. COOKSEY says:

    Stirs deep emotions not only for the deserted, rundown house, but for the person who memorized this when he was 14 and won State recognition during state competition – he died of cancer before he graduated from H.S., his mother’s only son whom she adored. So sad for mom and the old house.

  29. Barbara Thomas says:

    I learned this poem in the sixth grade, and since that date, I have never passed a similar site without feeling saddness at the plight of a house with nobody in it. I wish students today, instead of the endless preparation for testing, would be exposed to the beauty and depth of our nation’s poetry.

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