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Empty Houses

Posted on Wednesday, April 24, 2024 at 8:00 am

Musings and Memories 

By Doug Dezotell

Every place I have lived with my family, whether it was in Kentucky, West Texas, Alabama, Michigan or Tennessee, I have taken drives throughout the surrounding country. Up and down narrow roads I would all so often come across empty old houses.

Many times I would pull over to the side of the road and just look at the house and wonder.

I would wonder about the family that had once lived there. And I would wonder why the house was empty now. I wonder what had happened to those people.

Those melancholy empty houses would make me sad.

The late poet Joyce Kilmer wrote a poem that expresses how I feel about those old, sad empty houses.

The House With Nobody In It,  By 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.

(This poem is in the public domain)

I love this poem, and I love old houses. Even though they make me sad, and I wonder…

Doug Dezotell is the pastor of Cannon UMC in Shelbyville, and he is a columnist for the BCP. You can contact him by email at or call or text him at 931-607-5191.