Posted by: Tom Triumph | May 27, 2010

93. The House with Nobody in It: Joyce Kilmer

The sadness of Bukowski with the theme of “house”. I’m on a house roll.

At this end-of-the-year time the theme of community is a good one to discuss. We are a material culture, which is one of the themes that my students tackled with our “home” unit. So, looking at this house with broken windows, the author states that it is not the condition of the house that matters but that it needs people inside. Why?

We embrace “good middle school practice”, a vague term that can blanket anything we do that does not look like our K-6 grades or the high school. For us, that comes down to teaming. We spend a lot of time working on community and fostering the idea of “team”. How, then, does a team transform students from cogs in the education machine to learners? Does it? A discussion about how school goes beyond the assignments could lead to one about how they need to act towards one another to make their school a community, and how that pays back.

Okay, that’s a lot to put on this poem. But, it’s a start.

The House with Nobody in It
Joyce Kilmer

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.

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