“Let me live in a house by the side of the road”

Let me live in a houseHello, readers! I am back after a week’s vacation from Meanwhile, at the Manse – my first vacation from daily posting since I began this exercise a little over three years ago, and one I allowed myself only after having hit what I considered the milestone of 1,001 posts. As I told you when I reached that milestone, I’ll still be here regularly, but I am going to cut myself some slack and not write every day. Hey, that way I’ll have more time to find interesting new things to write about!

Which is precisely what I’ve been doing on my one-week vacation. (Well, that and going to my real job every day. And attending to church work. And, you know, yard work. And so on. And so on.) But anyway, a week’s worth of days that did not include spending a couple of hours each evening spinning a Meanwhile, at the Manse tale has afforded me the incredible luxury of a little bit of spare time, a little bit of rest, and a little bit more occasion to just hang out with Raymond, my favourite person. (The husband who came all the way to Queensborough with me.) And yes, I have found interesting new things to write about!

I thought I would start with the object that you see in the photo at the top of this post. It is a framed picture that I just recently found in an antiques emporium in Cobourg, Ont., and that is my new favourite thing. (After Raymond.) Also, I might add, it is is exactly what the Manse needs in the way of a new addition to the décor.

As you can tell from the photo, it is a framed picture that includes a verse of poetry. It was the rather charming old-fashioned picture, with the modestly coloured green and brown tints, that first caught my eye; but when I read the words, I instantly knew I had to have it. Now, in the hours since my purchase I have learned that the poem the words are from is very famous indeed, and I expect some of you will know it; but until today it was unknown to me, and so it is a new discovery and a new delight.

Sam Walter Foss

Sam Walter Foss, a “minor poet with a major message.”

The author of the poem is one Sam Walter Foss, 1858-1911, a “minor poet with a major message” as this interesting writeup by the Ethical Society of St. Louis (“A welcoming home for humanists” is their slogan) explains. Foss was a New Englander who, according to that same very helpful article, published several collections of verse toward the end of the 19th century. The one featured in my framed picture, called The House By the Side of the Road, is probably his most famous poem, though Wikipedia informs us here that the opening lines from another poem, called The Coming American, used to be inscribed in a granite wall at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. (The lines are: Bring me men to match my mountains / Bring me men to match my plains / Men with empires in their purpose / And new eras in their brains; they were removed from the granite wall, apparently, when it crossed the academy’s mind that there were women in the air force too.)

I also discovered in my research that it is widely (though not necessarily correctly) believed that the “house by the side of the road” that inspired Foss’s poem is one in the town of Tilton, N.H., which I found interesting – mainly because Raymond and I have been to Tilton several times, it being the location of one of those factory outlet malls that we Canadians love to visit when we are Stateside.

Finally, I learned that the outfit that produced my Cobourg antiques-emporium find, the Buzza Company of Minneapolis, Minn., (I can just barely read its name in tiny, tiny print at the bottom corner of my picture) was in operation between 1907 and 1942 (though its heyday was the 1920s). It produced “framed lithographs of gift mottos,” according to this site, and “knew that sentiment sold.”

Well, okay, so I bought the sentiment brought to me by Sam Walter Foss by way of the Buzza Company. But I bought it because I liked it, and I don’t see who wouldn’t. Here is the full text of Foss’s poem.You can  judge for yourself.

The House by the Side of the Road

There are hermit souls that live withdrawn
In the place of their self-content;
There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze the paths
Where highways never ran –
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Let me live in a house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by –
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat
Nor hurl the cynic’s ban –
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I see from my house by the side of the road
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife,
But I turn not away from their smiles and tears,
Both parts of an infinite plan –
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead,
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
And still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.

Let me live in my house by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by –
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish – so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban?
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

– Sam Walter Foss

Now you tell me, people – is that not a rather fine sentiment to have, and a code to live by? (Aside, that is, from the poem’s inherent assumption that all humans are men.)

I am going to place my framed Buzza Company print, with its charming picture and its words of wisdom by my new New England friend Sam Walter Foss, near the front door of the Manse – a house by the side of Bosley Road, Queensborough, Ont. A house that, having been built as a church manse, is supposed to be a place where a “friend to man” (and woman) lives. I hope that, from our house by the side of the road, Raymond and I will live up to Sam Walter Foss’s sentiment – sentimental though it might be. I believe it is good advice.

14 thoughts on ““Let me live in a house by the side of the road”

  1. Hey, you brightened our morning! We missed you. What if you live “in a house up a long lane by the side of a dead-end road”? we still welcome fellow travelers.

  2. Would be an inspiring poem for Mom. Offset that ‘I DON’T want to socialize’ outlook! She loves inspiring motto-poems, had an album full of them from her teens years.

    Sent from my iPad


      • When I read it I was reminded of The Fir Tree by Hans Christian Andersen. Both the house and the tree wonder what a different life would be like. K

      • Indeed, and both find out that it’s not all it might be! At least the story of The Little House ends happily; I find the ending of The Fir Tree heart-wrenching. In both cases the moral seems to be (as you suggest) that we will do well to appreciate the gifts and beauties of the place where we are, rather than long to be somewhere else.

      • Obviously somebody agrees. “In 2011, the story was again adapted as a short, Danish-language film directed by Lars Henrik Ostenfeld and presented in a modern setting. The story follows the tree from cone through seedling until it is cut down by a boy and his father, to be used as a Christmas tree. Unlike Andersen’s tale, which ends with the burning of the tree, the film shows a cone from the tree surviving the fire and being thrown into the forest, perhaps to grow into another fir tree. [4]”

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