Background:

Poems for Buying, Selling, Owning –Even Being– an Old House

When I was a real estate agent who marketed historic houses, there were a couple of times I thought it appropriate to use a good poem to help enhance the emotional appeal of the property, whether on my website or in the marketing materials I left at the house.  As my wife & I now prepare to close on the sale of our own circa 1916 farmhouse in Connecticut, I cannot help but recognize the sentiment felt by Robert Frost when he wrote the following poem, reflecting on the sale of his New Hampshire farm:

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robertfrost“On the Sale of My Farm” (1912):

Well-away and be it so,
To the Stranger Let them go.
Even Cheerfully I yield
Pasture or chard, mowing-field,
Yea and wish him all the gain
I required of them in vain.
Yea, and I can yield him house,
Barn, and shed, with rat and mouse
To dispute possession of.
These I can unlearn to love.
Since I cannot help it? Good!
Only be it understood,
It shall be no trespassing
If I come again some spring
In the grey disguise of years,
Seeking ache of memory here.


It is sad to leave an old house behind, yet it can be equally exhilarating and joyous to become a steward of another.
Christopher Morley, in Chimneysmoke (1921), observed the happiness of turning a house into a “home”:

Taking Title (1921):
TO make this little house my very own
Could not be done by law alone.
Though covenant and deed convey
Absolute fee, as lawyers say,
There are domestic rites beside
By which this house is sanctified.
By kindled fire upon the hearth,
By planted pansies in the garth,
By food, and by the quiet rest
Of those brown eyes that I love best,
And by a friends bright gift of wine,
I dedicate this house of mine
When all but I are soft abed
I trail about my quiet stead
A wreath of blue tobacco smoke
(A charm that evil never broke)
And bring my ritual to an end
By giving shelter to a friend.
This done, O dwelling, you become
Not just a house, but truly Home!

Of course, there is also something to appreciating the charms of the current house you live in.  During the 1800s, Emily Dickinson observed the subtle charms of her own “old-fashioned house.”

emilydickinson EDEN is that old-fashioned House
We dwell in every day,
Without suspecting our abode
Until we drive away.
How fair, on looking back, the Day
We sauntered from the door,
Unconscious our returning
Discover it no more.

Most REALTORS have worked with lots of buyers who just couldn’t quite find that “perfect house” within their price range — often because the house they had in mind would cost twice as much as their buying limit!  But in another poem by Christopher Morley, “Our House,” the poet seems to be content to enjoy his “perfect” historic house only in his imagination, and his poetry:

Our House (1912):

IT should be yours, if I could build
The quaint old dwelling I desire,
With books and pictures bravely filled
And chairs beside an open fire,
White-panelled rooms with candles lit–
I lie awake to think of it!

A dial for the sunny hours,
A garden of old-fashioned flowers–
Say marigolds and lavender
And mignonette and fever-few,
And Judas-tree and maidenhair
And candytuft and thyme and rue–
All these for you to wander in.

A Chinese carp (called Mandarin)
Waving a sluggish silver fin
Deep in the moat: so tame he comes
To lip your fingers offering crumbs.
Tall chimneys, like long listening ears,
White shutters, ivy green and thick,
And walls of ruddy Tudor brick
Grown mellow with the passing years.

And windows with small leaded panes,
Broad window-seats for when it rains;
A big blue bowl of pot pourri
And–yes, a Spanish chestnut tree
To coin the autumn’s minted gold.
A summer house for drinking tea–
All these (just think!) for you and me.

A staircase of the old black wood
Cut in the days of Robin Hood,
And banisters worn smooth as glass
Down which your hand will lightly pass;
A piano with pale yellow keys
For wistful twilight melodies,
And dusty bottles in a bin–
All these for you to revel in!

But when? Ah well, until that time
We’ll habit in this house of rhyme.

Lastly, many owners of historic houses will attest to their having their own “personality” or “soul,” and apparently, they can even have their own emotions shared through poetry.  This contemporary poet, Virginia (Ginny) Ellis, has captured the feelings of an old house as it observes the changes around it over the years:

The Old House (ca. 2004)

The old house awoke one morn,
And stretched from eave to eave,
He looked about his neighborhood,
And did not like what he perceived.

Up and down and cross the street,
All his old friends were gone,
Through the years, they’d disappeared,
Demolished and torn down.

He shook his chimney slightly,
With dismay and in despair,
It broke his heart to see
The newer houses rising there.

First one was built, and then another,
Soon a whole group that looked like clones,
Identical in style and size,
A row of postage stamp, small homes.

He was amazed at their construction,
Each built of steel, concrete,  and glass,
His aging shutters shuddered,
To see them go up so fast.

For the foundation of each house,
Cold, grey cement was poured,
Which was topped by sheets of plywood,
Unlike his handsome hardwood floors.

The old house chuckled to himself,
Floor-boards are more than floors, you know
Some of his were loosed and raised
To hide fine treasures down below.

Why, even now, a toy truck
Still lurked in such a space,
Placed there by a little boy
Who knew it would be safe.

All these years the old house held it,
And kept it safe from prying eyes,
The boy now is grown and gone,
But that toy truck was once his prize.

The old house liked being trusted,
With the secrets he concealed,
He felt pity for the new homes,
For such trust they’d never feel.

The old house had an awesome attic,
The newer homes had none,
Where would kids play on rainy days?
And where would they hide for fun?      …………More

If you have any good poems or even quotations about old/historic houses, we’d love for you to share here in the comments, or by e-mailing the moderators!

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