The House With Nobody In It

house with nobody in it

Houses don’t have lives of their own. They have an accumulation of parts and pieces of the lives of all who lived within them! Anybody who’s never read “The House With Nobody In It” by Joyce Kilmer should, anybody who’s ever read it ought to read it again.

-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. -Joyce Kilmer

Joyce Kilmer also wrote “Trees” and has a National Forest named for him over in Graham County!

Ed Ammons ~ April 2017



p.s. If you missed the hoopla-The Pressley Girls have their very first cd! Go here to get one!


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  • Reply
    July 18, 2018 at 8:51 am

    I always love reading your blog but this one about the empty house was extra good! This poem said perfectly things I couldn’t put into words. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Reply
      July 19, 2018 at 11:35 am

      Ozarkartist-so glad you liked it 🙂

  • Reply
    Maggie Boineau
    November 4, 2017 at 6:04 pm

    I know this is a poem about an old house, but being a Realtor with a nearly new house that has been empty for quite some time had me thinking of this listing while reading the poem. I found it totally entertaining and we always say a house needs people or it will wither away. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Reply
    Susie Swanson
    November 3, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    I really love this Tipper. You know me to well when it comes to an old house. I wrote one a good while back called, “The House Where No One Lives” in memory of my dear neighbor and her empty house that has now been torn down. Thanks for the post.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    November 3, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    I should have thought of Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Made Me”. Only it really wasn’t the house but the home she sang about.
    The house I grew up in is gone. So is my Grandma’s. Empty spaces, empty places in the heart.
    There is another poem that fits so very well; Edgar Guest’s “It Takes A Heap of Living” ….. in a house to make it home, a heap of sun and shader and you sometimes have to roam.
    A body can rest in a house. But a spirit can only rest at home.

  • Reply
    November 3, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    Tipper, thank you for sharing this. I absolutely love it, and it brings back so many precious memories of houses in my home town, Quincy, Florida.

  • Reply
    November 3, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    Sadder still, a whole town full of old, decrepit and neglected houses with only furry 4 footed residents.
    There used to be an ice cream commercial on tv with 3 elderly people peering into an old abandoned home: as they enter the door the slightly blurred and muted tone image shows them as youngsters bounding down the stairs to help churn ice cream on the porch.
    I always imagine stories to go with the empty homes and buildings I see; I used to tell these stories to my children as we drove around.
    Part of my daughters career took her through 2 years of architecture school; one of her professors assigned the students to come up with stories for buildings in the area in need of renovation and to create a model which showed how the renovations continue or explain story. She was assigned a building we had told stories about when she was a child so she used the story to create her design proposal. She got an A .
    About 10 years later, the building was renovated with many of the elements she had included in her proposal – no credit given, but guess who the architect was. . . .
    But I digress – empty homes (and buildings) tug at the heartstrings whether the longings are memories slipping away or the ache of loneliness for what could have been. I get a similar feeling when I come upon a piece of old pottery or an arrow head while walking in the woods; sometimes even when I spy something familiar in an antique store like the old wooden rolling pin or the green glass juicer which remind me of my Dad’s mother. Seems we’re always looking for the comfort and security promised by the concept of home.

  • Reply
    November 3, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    And Ed: That was a nice poem, I suppose all of us have seen old, abandoned houses with no folks around. It’s Sad! I especially liked the middle part about giving the house for free to folks that needed a home. …Ken

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    November 3, 2017 at 11:16 am

    I have difficulty pulling meaning from unmetered, unrhyming poetry, whether it is of the low or high brow variety. But words like these of Joyce Kilmer just reach out and take holt.
    Thanks for sharing, Ed and Tipper.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 3, 2017 at 11:03 am

    I didn’t really want one of the Pressley Girls’ cds, so I got two. I got an email from some Pretzel person the other day saying they were ready to ship. I got an email from USPS today with tracking information. They left Brasstown at 3:14 PM yesterday, arrived in Greeneville, SC at 10:47PM last night and then at Greensboro, NC at 9:24 AM this morning. That’s 259 miles in a little more than 18 hours. Now that’s efficiency. Do you think? Well but I live only 147 miles from you. And they are still 100 miles away.
    Normally I wouldn’t complain but this is the Pressley Girls we are talking about and I have been waiting this for years.

  • Reply
    Lisa Snuggs
    November 3, 2017 at 9:49 am

    I’ve always been enamored with old farmhouses, so much so that my sisters even say “there’s a Lisa house” when they spot one they know I’d like. I bought a 1912 house with nobody in it in Middle Tennessee in the late 90s and poured my heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears, and paychecks into it for five years before moving back to North Carolina. I cried to leave it and will always remember the feeling of belonging it gave me.

  • Reply
    Jane Bolden
    November 3, 2017 at 9:40 am

    Love it! I also find empty old houses sad.

  • Reply
    November 3, 2017 at 9:25 am

    My imagination runs wild each time I visit ‘the house with nobody in it’. The house I’m writing about is located in the head of a holler in walking distance from where I grew up. A double murder took place there when I was in grade school. Doors were locked, children were kept home from school and outside chores were neglected while a manhunt for the killer took place in the hills around the area. A recently released prisoner with revenge on his mind came to his in-laws house where his wife was staying, a home she thought was safe. She and her daddy died violently while her mom hid and watched it all. The survivor told detailed stories of the tragedy and that has kept anyone from living there for nearly half a century. The beautiful house does have someone in it, we just can’t see them. Many years later I married the owner’s grandson. Like the poem, I wish I could fix up the house and give it away.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    November 3, 2017 at 8:04 am

    I had never read that poem. It is a good one. Thanks Mr. Ammons, Tipper and Mr. Kilmer.
    I think I’ve posted this before, but when I see an empty house that is not too far gone I think, ‘Somebody should save that place.’ There truly is something haunting about an empty house that one can tell must have had generations living in it, adding on, planting flowers and just making it a homeplace.

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    November 3, 2017 at 7:44 am

    I know of places like these. Some, not many left standing, were places where we lived along the way. Some, like the falling down cabin by the old road, on a bank over a stream in Virginia, seem to murmur the ancient sounds of a family that lived and eked out a living there back in the ’50s and ’60s and evoke a feeling of having been there before through Kilmer’s story.
    Joyce Kilmer wrote simple, pleasing stories in easy rhyme. No long sonnets without rhyme or reason, no open-verse nonsense, no ugliness like we see in today’s so-called poet laureates’ blather.
    When he lost his life in The Great War the world lost one of its best poets and best sources for ‘feel good’, pleasureful, at once beautiful poetry.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 3, 2017 at 7:37 am

    That’s true, old empty houses have such a sadness about them. When I was younger I used to walk in the mountains above my grandmothers house. There was an old home place there, empty for many years. I no longer remember who it belonged to, some distant relative.
    There was the house/cabin, it always seemed so empty and cold. Outside were all the things that tell you that a family once lived there. There was the clearly defined garden plot with rhubarb still growing at the edge. There was a can house with shelves dug into the side of the hill and a couple of apple trees growing in the yard. There was a spring house with water still running through and there were beautiful yellow flowers growing around the long empty place. It always made me sad to see the house so empty and alone.

  • Reply
    November 3, 2017 at 7:23 am

    That’s exactly the way I feel when I ride through the country and see old, abandoned houses. They look so sad, and I often wonder how they became abandoned, and I often imagine what they would have looked like when families lived in them.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    November 3, 2017 at 7:14 am

    Beautiful, I have often looked at abandoned houses and wondered what happened to the family that lived there. Did they die, move away, or what? They make me sad.

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