I dwell in a lonely house I know
That vanished many a summer ago,
And left no trace but the cellar walls,
And a cellar in which the daylight falls
And the purple-stemmed wild raspberries grow.
O’er ruined fences the grape-vines shield
The woods come back to the mowing field;
The orchard tree has grown one copse
Of new wood and old where the woodpecker chops;
The footpath down to the well is healed.
I dwell with a strangely aching heart
In that vanished abode there far apart
On that disused and forgotten road
That has no dust-bath now for the toad.
Night comes; the black bats tumble and dart;
The whippoorwill is coming to shout
And hush and cluck and flutter about:
I hear him begin far enough away
Full many a time to say his say
Before he arrives to say it out.
It is under the small, dim, summer star.
I know not who these mute folk are
Who share the unlit place with me—
Those stones out under the low-limbed tree
Doubtless bear names that the mosses mar.
They are tireless folk, but slow and sad—
Though two, close-keeping, are lass and lad,—
With none among them that ever sings,
And yet, in view of how many things,
As sweet companions as might be had.
This poem drips melancholy from each stanza. I get the impression of a man in his later years, who is basically living in the past. His life is nothing but the ruined remnants of what he was in his youth. The images of the raspberry growing in the ruins of what was once the cellar (a symbol for the foundation upon which his life was once built) is particularly poignant. While the raspberries are delicious summer berries, representing the sweetness of his youth, the brambles on which the berries grow are full of thorns, and the vines are like painful memories, sharp and prickly, entwined in his brain.
Several types of birds appear in the poem, and each one symbolizes a part of his memory. The woodpecker is the constant tapping, tapping, tapping of his past, reminding him of what is lost. The bats are the memories which haunt him at night, fluttering through his dreams. The other birds—whippoorwill, hush, and cluck—symbolize the happier memories of his childhood, calling back to him.
I feel there is a larger overarching theme here. Nature reclaims all that is created. The house is reclaimed by nature, overgrown and reduced to little more than a crumbling foundation. Likewise, the man knows that nature is about to reclaim him, and like the house, all that will remain of him will be an old, crumbling, neglected gravestone, covered with brambles.