‘The Light of the House’ by Louise Imogen Guiney is a short three-stanza poem that is made up of sets of four lines, or quatrains. These quatrains follow a rhyming pattern of aabb ccdd eeff. The rhyme scheme is constant and unwavering from the beginning to the end of the poem. Additionally, each line is of a similar length and they all contain approximately twelve syllables.
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Summary of The Light of the House
The poem begins with the speaker talking directly to a man that has passed on from this life and returned to it in one form or another. The man was most likely her husband, and now that he has returned, he is able to walk all of his old paths and make her feel as she did while he was still alive.
While the speaker describes the man as being ghost-like, but it is more likely that the idea of his continued existence is cheering the speaker. His good deeds, and happy nature live on in the house. They are so strong in fact all who come to visit are touched by them.
Analysis of The Light of the House
Beyond the cheat of Time, here where you died, you live;
You pace the garden walk, secure and sensitive;
You linger on the stair: Love’s lonely pulses leap!
The harpsichord is shaken, the dogs look up from sleep.
The speaker of ‘The Light of the House’ begins by addressing an unknown listener, a special being, beyond the reach of death. The only details that the reader gets in regard to this person come through veiled comments that hint at his past life and the way that he lives now.
By the end of the first line, the reader already knows that the person to whom this poem is addressed is dead. He has somehow managed to “cheat…time” and live in the same place “where [he] died.” One will come to understand that this person, the “lord of the house,” is the “light” alluded to in the title.
It is as if this person has not died at all. They still “pace the garden” as they used to, and hide out on the stairs. They “linger” in the same places they did during life and give off an air of sensitivity. The speaker was close to this person and understands the importance of the things that his ghost does.
His presence in all his old favourite places makes the speaker, who seems to have been his wife or lover, feel alive and full of “Love’s lonely pulses.” She is retuned to the days during which he was truly there. In fact, it is mostly as if nothing has changed. The narrator describes the ghost’s attempt to play the harpsichord, and the reaction is given by the dogs who are awoken “from sleep.”
Here, after all the years, you keep the heirdom still;
The youth and joy in you achieve their olden will,
Unbidden, undeterred, with waking sense adored;
And still the house is happy that hath so dear a lord.
Although many years have passed between the days that he was in charge of this house, and the hours now during which he haunts it, everything is almost exactly the same. There is still a “youth and joy” in the house that he was always responsible for, a fact the speaker is able to relish. It is as if her love has returned to her with no strings attached.
If one’s husband has to die, this whole situation appears to be the ideal outcome. While he may not have the physical presence he once did, he is “undeterred” by the barriers of death. His days in the house are the same as they were previously, he makes it a “happy” place to live.
To every inmate heart, confirmed in cheer you brought,
Your name is as a spell midway of speech and thought,
And to a wonted guest (not awestruck heretofore),
The sunshine that was you floods all the open door.
In the final stanza of ‘The Light of the House’, when the reader might be expecting some turn in the speaker’s fortune, no twist comes. It truly does seem as if the speaker has been blessed by the afterlife and had her husband returned, at least partially, to her.
She is not the only one who is brought happiness by his presence. There are many lives he touched while still physically present on earth and he is still foremost in their thoughts. They remember the “cheer [he] brought.”
In the final lines, the speaker states that even those that did not know him are struck by the “Light of the House” when they enter through the front door; s1o pervasive is his goodness that he is able to impact all who visit.
About Louise Imogen Guiney
Louise Imogen Guiney was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1861. She was the daughter of an Irish-Catholic immigrant who served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Her father is now considered as an important part of her development as a poet, installing in her an appreciation for heroism.
Guiney graduated from Elmhurst Academy in Providence, Rhode Island in 1879. She had spent her time there pursuing a liberal arts education. For many of the years that followed she lived in Boston and Auburndale with her mother and aunt.
Her first noteworthy work was produced in the early 1880s. These pieces were published in various New England periodicals and were followed in 1884 by her first volume, Songs at the Start, and her first book of essays, Goose-Quill Papers. For the remaining years of the decade she produced a second volume of poetry, The White Sail, and Other Poems, as well as a number of short stories. Then, in the early 1890s, wrote her first biography detailing the life of Henri du Vergier, a French military figure.
The volume of poetry for which she is best known, A Roadside Harp, was released in 1893 to rave reviews. In 1901, after moving to England, she spent the majority of her time writing essays and works of criticism. Over the next 20 plus years, she wrote a number of other biographies as well as worked as an editor for other authors.
Her final collection published just over ten years before her death, Happy Endings: The Collected Lyrics of Louise Imogen Guiney, was released in 1909. She would suffer from varied health problems for the rest of her life until she died of arteriosclerosis, (or a thickening of the arteries brought on by old age) in 1920.