Randall Jarrell

(May 6, 1914 – October 14, 1965 / Nashville)

The House In The Woods


At the back of the houses there is the wood.
While there is a leaf of summer left, the wood

Makes sounds I can put somewhere in my song,
Has paths I can walk, when I wake, to good

Or evil: to the cage, to the oven, to the House
In the Wood. It is a part of life, or of the story

We make of life. But after the last leaf,
The last light--for each year is leafless,

Each day lightless, at the last--the wood begins
Its serious existence: it has no path,

No house, no story; it resists comparison...
One clear, repeated, lapping gurgle, like a spoon

Or a glass breathing, is the brook,
The wood's fouled midnight water. If I walk into the wood

As far as I can walk, I come to my own door,
The door of the House in the Wood. It opens silently:

On the bed is something covered, something humped
Asleep there, awake there--but what? I do not know.

I look, I lie there, and yet I do not know.
How far out my great echoing clumsy limbs

Stretch, surrounded only by space! For time has struck,
All the clocks are stuck now, for how many lives,

On the same second. Numbed, wooden, motionless,
We are far under the surface of the night.

Nothing comes down so deep but sound: a car, freight cars,
A high soft droning, drawn out like a wire

Forever and ever--is this the sound that Bunyan heard
So that he thought his bowels would burst within him?--

Drift on, on, into nothing. Then someone screams
A scream like an old knife sharpened into nothing.

It is only a nightmare. No one wakes up, nothing happens,
Except there is gooseflesh over my whole body--

And that too, after a little while, is gone.
I lie here like a cut-off limb, the stump the limb has left...

Here at the bottom of the world, what was before the world
And will be after, holds me to its back

Breasts and rocks me: the oven is cold, the cage is empty,
In the House in the Wood, the witch and her child sleep.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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Comments about this poem (The House In The Woods by Randall Jarrell )

  • Freshman - 796 Points Lamont Palmer (12/7/2007 1:48:00 PM)

    I love the lyrcism in this. Good poem on isolation. Jarrell was a wonderful poet (and critic) who serves as a nice model for poets today. He was direct, musical and thoughtful. -LP (Report) Reply

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