by the poet : 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
And look at the house, the tragic house, the house with nobody in
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
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
Looks idle, perhaps, and foolish, like a hat on its block in the
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
Is the saddest sight, when it’s left alone, that ever your eyes
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
For I can’t help thinking the poor old house is a house with a broken
Alfred Joyce Kilmer (December 6, 1886 – July 30, 1918) was an American journalist, poet, literary critic, lecturer, and editor. Though a prolific poet whose works celebrated the common beauty of the natural world as well as his religious faith, Kilmer is remembered most for a short poem entitled “Trees” (1913), which was published in the collection Trees and Other Poems in 1914.
Trees by Joyce Kilmer
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
While most of his works are unknown, a select few of his poems remain popular and are published frequently in anthologies. Several critics, both Kilmer’s contemporaries and modern scholars, disparaged Kilmer’s work as being too simple, overly sentimental, and suggested that his style was far too traditional, even archaic. While Kilmer is not known as being a dark poet, I found his poem The House With Nobody In It to be quite moving and sad and I wanted to include this little known poem on our darkpens blog, because it gave me a chill.
At the time of his deployment to Europe during the first World War (1914–1918), Kilmer was considered the leading American Catholic poet and lecturer of his generation, whom critics often compared to British contemporaries G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936) and Hilaire Belloc (1870–1953). Kilmer was a sergeant in the 165th U.S. Infantry Regiment (better known as ‘The Fighting 69th). During the Second Battle of Marne, there was heavy fighting throughout the last days of July 1918, and on July 30, 1918, Kilmer volunteered to accompany Major William “Wild Bill” Donovan when Donovan’s Battalion (1-165th Infantry) was sent to lead the day’s attack.
During the course of the day, Kilmer led a scouting party to find the position of a German machine gun. When his comrades found him, some time later, they thought at first that he was peering over the edge of a little hill, where he had crawled for a better view. When he did not answer their call, they ran to him and found him dead. According to Father Duffy: “A bullet had pierced his brain. His body was carried in and buried by the side of Ames. God rest his dear and gallant soul.”
Kilmer died, likely immediately, from a sniper’s bullet to the head near Muercy Farm, beside the Ourcq River near the village of Seringes-et-Nesles, in France, on July 30, 1918 at the age of 31. For his valor, Kilmer was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre (War Cross) by the French Republic.
Kilmer was buried in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial, near Fere-en-Tardenois, Aisne, Picardy, France. Although Kilmer is buried in France in an American military cemetery, a cenotaph is located on the Kilmer family plot in Elmwood Cemetery, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. A memorial service was held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan. To view his Find A Grave Memorial click here
Photo by Brian Pohanka- FindAGrave Contributor
Article submitted by Angela L Burke- MSSPI