Pictures and Poetry: Edward Hirsch and Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper The House by the Railroad oil on canvas 73.5x 61 cm (1925)

Poet Edward Hirsch (American, b. 1950) writes in an accessible style, and with a strongly emotional appeal. He says "I believe, as Ezra Pound once said, that when it comes to poetry, 'only emotion endures.'" Hirsh is well known for his book How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry as well as for his weekly “Poet’s Choice” column in the Washington Post. 

Hirsch's poem about "The House by the Railroad" puts into words the powerful feelings that Hopper's lonely, sunlit buildings evoke in us. I love his description here of the painter as "relentless" and "brutal as sunlight":
Edward Hopper and the House by the Railroad  
by Edward Hirsch (1925) 
Out here in the exact middle of the day,
This strange, gawky house has the expression
Of someone being stared at, someone holding
His breath underwater, hushed and expectant; 
This house is ashamed of itself, ashamed
Of its fantastic mansard rooftop
And its pseudo-Gothic porch, ashamed
of its shoulders and large, awkward hands. 
But the man behind the easel is relentless.
He is as brutal as sunlight, and believes
The house must have done something horrible
To the people who once lived here 
Because now it is so desperately empty,
It must have done something to the sky
Because the sky, too, is utterly vacant
And devoid of meaning. There are no 
Trees or shrubs anywhere--the house
Must have done something against the earth.
All that is present is a single pair of tracks
Straightening into the distance. No trains pass. 
Now the stranger returns to this place daily
Until the house begins to suspect
That the man, too, is desolate, desolate
And even ashamed. Soon the house starts 
To stare frankly at the man. And somehow
The empty white canvas slowly takes on
The expression of someone who is unnerved,
Someone holding his breath underwater. 
And then one day the man simply disappears.
He is a last afternoon shadow moving
Across the tracks, making its way
Through the vast, darkening fields. 
This man will paint other abandoned mansions,
And faded cafeteria windows, and poorly lettered
Storefronts on the edges of small towns.
Always they will have this same expression, 
The utterly naked look of someone
Being stared at, someone American and gawky.
Someone who is about to be left alone
Again, and can no longer stand it.


  1. Thanks Taryn. Great stuff melding poets with painters.

  2. This one evokes such memories of my childhood visits to southeast Missouri farm country in the summertime - where my grandparents lived and they really didn't live in a house like this but now that I live in farm country in Kansas and see these abandoned derelicts daily - it allows me that connection to see those ghosts of yesteryear as they went about their daily activity. Love your connection - Hopper one of my favorites!


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