Sam Walter Foss

The House by the Side of the Road by Sam Walter Foss

‘The House by the Side of the Road’ by Sam Walter Foss was a once-popular American poem about caring for and helping other people. 

While this poem is still read today, it’s not nearly as popular as it used to be. It’s divided into five stanzas of equal length, uses repeated phrases, and has a clear moral message. The uplifting mood of the poem, in combination with Foss’ clear syntactic choices, also makes it very pleasant to read. 

The House by the Side of the Road
Sam Walter Foss

There are hermit souls that live withdrawnIn 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 pathsWhere highways never ran-But let me live by the side of the roadAnd be a friend to man.

Let me live in a house by the side of the roadWhere 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 seatNor hurl the cynic's ban-Let me live in a house by the side of the roadAnd be a friend to man.

I see from my house by the side of the roadBy 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 roadAnd 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 afternoonAnd stretches away to the night.And still I rejoice when the travelers rejoiceAnd weep with the strangers that moan,Nor live in my house by the side of the roadLike 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 roadAnd be a friend to man.
The House by the Side of the Road by Sam Walter Foss


Summary 

‘The House by the Side of the Road’ by Sam Walter Foss is an uplifting poem about helping those in need. 

The speaker spends the five stanzas of this poem discussing what he wants to do with his life. Specifically, he wants to live by the side of the road in a home that will give him access to all of those walking along the path of life. There will be those who are happy and hopeful and those who are suffering a great deal. He won’t judge them; he says (as he knows he’s guilty of making mistakes too). Instead, he’ll be there to help them through their individual issues. 

Meaning 

The meaning of this poem is that the most important thing one can do in life is to help others in need. The speaker also makes it very clear that one shouldn’t judge others for their mistakes as it’s very easy to make all those same mistakes oneself. 

Structure and Form 

‘The House by the Side of the Road’ by Sam Walter Foss is a five-stanza poem that is divided into octaves or sets of eight lines. The poem follows a rhyme scheme of ABCB; changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. The poem uses relatively simple language to describe a man’s intentions for his life and should be easy for most readers to understand. 

Literary Devices 

The poet uses a few literary devices in this poem, including: 

  • Refrain: the repetition of an entire line within a poem. For example, “But let me live by the side of the road / And be a friend to man.”
  • Parallelism: the repetition of a line’s structure multiple times. For example, “There are pioneer souls,” “There are souls like stars,” and “There are hermit souls” in stanza one. 
  • Juxtaposition: contrasting images that give a poem more meaning. For example, the repeated contrast between light and dark or good times and bad. 


Detailed Analysis 

Stanza One

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.

In the first lines of this poem, the speaker begins by describing the different types of souls there are in the world. Some people are hermits; some have souls like stars, and some have pioneer souls. Then, there’s the speaker himself. He contrasts his own intentions with those of these three other types of people. 

He’s not withdrawn like the hermit or brave and pioneering like other people are. All he wants in his life is to live by the “side of the road / And be a friend to man.” 

Stanza Two

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.

The man wants to live a simple life in a house by the road and help those in need. The speaker declares this as the sole purpose of his life. He’s not going to be there to judge who is good and who is bad or to “scorn” people for their actions. He just wants to be a “friend to man.” The poet uses the same words at the end of stanza two as at the end of stanza one, creating what is known as a refrain

He also notes in this stanza that he has a very fair and open understanding of himself and other people. He knows that all people have both good and bad in them. 

Stanza Three

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.

From his imagined house on the side of the road, he thinks that he’s going to be able to observe a great deal. He’ll see people walking along the path of life with the “ardor of hope” and those who are entirely overwhelmed by, or “faint with,” their strife. Some people will be living life more easily than others, and he wants to be there for all of them. He won’t be willing to turn away from the men and their various issues. That is because he says all hope and sorrow are part of an “infinite plan.” Here, he’s likely alluding to a belief in a higher power, like the Christian God. 

This stanza also ends with the same lines from the previous two stanzas, repeating his intentions to be a “friend to man.” 

Stanza Four

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.

The speaker returns to his thoughts about the world and the path that all people walk. There are always going to be hard times ahead, he says, but there are also going to be “brook-gladdened meadows,” too. The road of life passes through the day and into the night, again presenting a juxtaposition between the easy and harder parts of life. 

The speaker imagines himself on the side of the road, feeling what the travelers feel and celebrating or mourning with them. He sees himself weeping and rejoicing with those who pass by. 

Stanza Five 

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.

In the final lines of the poem, he says that he hopes he can take his position on the side of the road as a friend to man and help people when they are “good,” “bad,” “weak,” and “strong.” He wants to be there to see every part of human existence, even when they are “wise” and “foolish.” He is as they are, he adds, making mistakes and feeling hope, along with all other emotions. 

Since he has this view of himself and other people, he says that there is no way he’d sit in the “scorner’s seat” or “hurl the cynic’s ban.” His help does not come with judgment or anger. He repeats a final time that he only wants to be a friend to “man.”     

FAQs 

What is ‘The House by the Side of the Road’ by Sam Walter Foss about? 

This poem is about one person’s desire to help others through their issues and in their times of need. No one should look down on others who are struggling or making mistakes, he adds, because there are things that happen to everyone. 

What is the theme of ‘The House by the Side of the Road’ by Sam Walter Foss?

The theme of this poem is that all people deserve help, and devoting oneself to that job is a morally good thing to do. The speaker wants nothing more out of life, he says, than to be that person.

What is the tone of ‘The House by the Side of the Road’ by Sam Walter Foss?

The tone of this poem is confident and caring. The speaker understands human beings and human nature very well. It doesn’t bother him that people make mistakes or are filled with sorrow. He’s prepared to help anyone who needs it. 

What is the mood of ‘The House by the Side of the Road’ by Sam Walter Foss?

The mood of this poem is optimistic. Readers should walk away from the text feeling inspired by Foss’ words and perhaps feeling as though they too, could do more to help those around them. 


Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related poems. For example: 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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