"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Broken and Beautiful

Complete Modern Home No. 115
Sears, Roebuck & Company ~ 1908 - 1940
Similar to so many homes right here in my Indiana Neighborhood!
Including the one I lived in years ago as a student in South Bend.


When my cousin Maggie sent me the following photograph, I couldn't help thinking of "The House With Nobody In It" by Joyce Kilmer. Maggie's caption perfectly condenses the sentiment of the poem:

Broken & Beautiful
"Whenever I see abandoned houses I wonder about the family that used to live there. The excitement when the house was first built, the children who ran through those rooms, the meals that were served and shared. The happiness and even the pain. Oh, if walls could talk!"

~ Maggie Mesneak Wick* ~

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
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.

by American poet Joyce Kilmer(1886-1918)
best known for the occasionally parodied poem, "Trees"


Many desolate, heart - breaking paintings and photographs
have been paired with Kilmer's poem.
Click here to see more.


I'm also reminded of a couple of songs

1. "You're Beautiful Just As You Are,"
sung by Oscar the Grouch
in one of Ben and Sam's favorite childhood videos:
Don't Eat the Pictures:

"Broken and beautiful, fractured and rare
Missing pieces that used to be there . . .

Broken and beautiful, cracked but okay
Can't imagine who'd throw you away . . ."


2. And Janis Ian's classic, "Memories"
(mentioned elsewhere on this blog):

"There are memories within the walls and tapestries . . . "


Lastly (and also mentioned a few times before) is Philip Larkin's abbreviated sonnet; for surely this poem cries out for a final quatrain, but, no, that's all there is, no fitting conclusion, no closure, no fond farewell, just the "poor old house . . . with a broken heart," the "shot . . . long fallen wide":

Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft
And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.

The Bereft Music Room With Nobody In It: Too Sad to Explain

Photography by Aaron B. Carriker


*For more insights from my Cousin Extraordinaire,
Maggie Mesneak Wick:
Empty Nest
The Still Small Voice of Heaven
Here Comes Peter Cottontail, Or Not

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, May 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

1 comment:

  1. Thanks to my friend Marguerite for sending the following poem; she writes: Here is another poem by Maori Poet Hone Tuwhare which really resonated with this former farm girl from the 1950s and 60s in Arkansas. The images that immediately popped into my mind were those of all the abandoned farm houses in rural Kansas and Iowa as one drives through those states. Just as urbanization has reduced Maori homes in rural NZ to mere shells, the loss of rural (and "cultural") heritage is universal, whether in the farm belt of middle America, on tribal lands in Arizona and New Mexico where I traveled again in 2012, or in rural Brazil, when I was there last year.

    "The Old Place"
    by Hone Tuwhare (NZ Prominent Maori Poet)

    No one comes
    by way of the doughy track
    through straggly tea tree bush
    and gorse, past the hidden spring
    and bitter cress.

    Under the chill moon's light
    no one cares to look upon
    the drunken fence-posts
    and the gate white with moss.

    No one except the wind
    saw the old place
    make her final curtsy
    to the sky and earth:

    and in no protesting sense
    did iron and barbed wire
    ease to the rust's invasion
    nor twang more tautly
    to the wind's slap and scream.

    On the cream-lorry
    or morning paper van
    no one comes,
    for no one will ever leave
    the golden city on the fussy train;
    and there will be no more waiting
    on the hill beside the quiet tree
    where the old place falters
    because no one comes any more

    no one.

    found in "An Anthology of Twentieth Century New Zealand Poetry," edited by Vincent O'Sullivan