The House of Life

to Stephen

Come in, my friend, and warm yourself; come in out of the cold!
The night is dark, and icy winds blow harshly on the wold.
Inside you´ll find a roaring fire to warm you as you stand
Before its crackling flames, a cup of cider in your hand.

Why would you linger in that winter wilderness outside
Removed from everything you need to comfortably abide?
Outside, you face the arctic blast, the cruel blizzard´s groan,
As night conspires with bitter winds to chill you to the bone.

Why would you tarry in that blackness where no moonlight shines?
Why not seek out those well-marked paths where frequent hopeful signs
Assure the pilgrim that he’s heading in the right direction
Toward that bright city full of love and joy and warm affection?

Why would you choose to stay where rivers turn as hard as stone?
Where snows erase all signs of life and one frail deer alone
Looks vainly for that tender grass on which he lately fed,
Until white drifting piles inter his frame and he lies dead.

Why would you wander where no life can thrive nor long endure?
Why walk these paths so frigid, dark that lead nowhere for sure?
Go search and find the former paths, well travelled, worn and old
That lead you back the way you came, back to the shepherd’s fold.

Come, enter in the house of life, and there you will behold
A family that receives each day rich gifts more rare than gold.
The Landlord who supplies these riches bids you enter, too,
That you might share in all these gifts His love would shed on you.

No words can tell the wondrous things that He bestows for free
On all who dwell within these walls in gracious harmony:
Companionship, protection from all harm, sweet peace and rest
Like that a babe enjoys while lying on its mother’s breast.

A sense of lasting value, given purpose, future hope
Lights up like candles every hall, so dwellers there don’t grope
Nor stumble in the darkness like those on the icy road
Who wander blindly, burdened by their awful crushing load.

So why do you remain outside? The Landlord bids you come,
He says, “Now leave the freezing night that’s left you cold and numb!
Your thirst and hunger will be quelled by grace that cancels debt;
Here in this house, so full of light, your needs will all be met.”



Ghosts of Winter

A cold wind blows across the silent lake,
The murky surface curdles, then like glass
Gleams briefly, as the brooding storm clouds pass
And filter pale beams through every break.

The gray gaunt corpses standing all alone
Along the shore, aroused, begin to quake;
They heave a mournful sigh and dryly shake
Their leafless limbs, stripped naked to the bone.

The sound of blackbirds crying overhead,
The voice of winter whisp´ring in the trees,
The crack of branches snapping in the breeze
Announce the dying year will soon be dead.

Is that why ghosts seem always to appear
Within my head to haunt me by the way
While walking by the half light of the day,
This sadly sweet and solemn time of year?

I sense their spectral presence as I walk
On lonely woodland paths with no one near
They make no sound to tell me they are here—
They only watch and do not ever talk.

Invisibly, they come and gather round
To view me from the shadows where they hide
To follow close behind, or by my side,
To cross my path unseen, without a sound.

Who are these ghosts who suddenly appear
To walk with me along the paths that wind
Within the haunted woodland of my mind
Lit by the dying embers of the year?

I see their faces, and I feel no fear,
For these are faces of old friends I know,
And kinfolk who departed long ago,
Familiar faces, well beloved and dear.

Throughout the months of spring they hide away
And do not venture forth from where they sleep
In chambers of the memory dark and deep,
Their presence hidden by the light of day.

But as the blazing summer sun withdraws
And misty autumn casts on earth a pall,
and winter’s early breath makes dead leaves fall
And swirl around and scrape the ground like claws,

Tis then they come, arising from the haze
Called forth, as by the tolling of a bell,
From twilight realms wherein they mainly dwell
To stay with me throughout the winter days.

What force attracts them to seek out the sun?
A sense of sadness, loneliness, desire
To warm themselves again by that bright fire
Denied to those whose fleeting day is done?

Perhaps the fire that draws them here is mine
The fire of love that burns within my heart
For those who once were of my life a part,
For whom the year’s end causes me to pine.

I love them still, and feel them to be near
though now I cannot feel their warm embrace,
Or see, as once I did, their cherished face
Nor hope again their tender voice to hear

How sad it is to walk in this strange vale,
With persons who, though gone, are present still,
Though dead, are yet alive enough to fill
My heart with feelings time cannot assail.

Yet sadness, is like winter, for a time,
And points beyond itself, to give a clue
Of something better coming, something new
A different day, more sunny and sublime.

A joyful day that will not ever end,
When winter rains and chilling winds will cease
And spring return to join our hearts in peace
With those who wait for us around the bend.



Martin Rizley grew up in Oklahoma and in Texas, and has served in pastoral ministry both in the United States and in Europe. He is currently serving as the pastor of a small evangelical church in the city of Málaga on the southern coast of Spain, where he lives with his wife and daughter. Martin has enjoyed writing and reading poetry as a hobby since his early youth.

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21 Responses

  1. Joe Tessitore

    “The House of Life” is truly marvelous and a joy to read.
    Before I read “Ghosts of Winter”, I would ask that you check its next-to-last line – I wonder if it should be “Your thirst and hunger … “

    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you Joe; I am so glad you like the poems! And you are right about the misplaced comma in Ghosts of Winter; it should be placed after “is,” not before.

  2. Yael

    Very nice poems, and I really enjoy The House Of Life in particular. What a marvelous way to express the good and most important news to humanity, in English. Thank you very much.

  3. Joe Tessitore

    “Ghosts of Winter” is as wonderful as “The House of Life”.
    Yet another tiny suggestion – in the next-to-last verse, should the comma be after and not before “is”?

    • C.B. Anderson

      Your suggestion about the placement of the comma is spot-on, Joe, but please don’t type “verse” when you mean “stanza.”

      • Joe Tessitore

        I wasn’t going to ask, but Google defined “stanza” as “a verse”, so I’m up against it.
        What’s the difference?

      • James A. Tweedie

        I know I am late with a comment that perhaps no one will read, but . . . sometimes “a” verse is also a stanza and vice versa. This is especially true in hymns where we would say, “We will sing the second verse” instead of “We will sing the second stanza” even though, in this case, it would mean the same thing. In the case of this particular poem I would say that while it is true the two words mean different things, in this situation they overlap and I can see no reason why they could not be used interchangeably.

  4. Paul A. Freeman

    The House of Life and Ghosts of Winter had a Gothic feel to them, I felt, aided perhaps by Evan’s choice of picture.

    With Ghosts of Winter, I was put in mind of when Jacob Marley finishes his spiel and there are ghosts suddenly all over the shop.

    Thanks for the read, Martin.

    • Martin Rizley

      I also loved Evan´s choice of picture. I would say this website has got to be one of the most beautiful poetry websites because of the wonderful paintings that are chosen to adorn the poems. They do often set the “mood” of the poem. I love Dicken´s Christmas Carol and know which scene you are referring to– although I think it takes place in Scrooge´s house rather than his shop. In the Albert Finney version, that is an impressive scene with a number of ghosts floating past Scrooge as he is flying through the night sky over Victorian London with Marley´s ghost. I have to admit I have a fondness for wintry English landscapes, Victorian settings, and yes, “Gothic” moods, as well– and I guess it comes through in that poem.

  5. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Martin, these poems are beautiful. Your words paint a bleak and desolate portrait of winter. In “The House of Life” I love the way you’ve used pathetic fallacy to depict the warmth of the hearth and heart of the home to highlight the icy loneliness of the person in the hostile blizzard outside. The home and the family within shine with the true gifts of Christmas and the message is especially effective at this often tough time of year.

    I can relate to “Ghosts of Winter”. At Christmas, I feel the dearly departed gather to ignite festive memories. The seasons offer hope. To see death in bleak mid-winter give way to the life and vibrancy of spring is a great reminder of “those who wait for us around the bend”.

    Thank you for these admirably crafted poems that have touched my heart… especially this year when I’m unable to gather with my family.

    • Martin Rizley

      Susan, Thank you so much for your sincere and always thoughtful feedback. I really appreciation the appreciation you express for my poems! Coming from a gifted and prolific wordsmith like yourself, your critique means a lot to me! I´m sorry you won´t be able to gather with your family this Christmas; I hope that, despite travel limitations, you will be able to make some pleasant memories right where you are with friends close at hand

  6. Margaret Coats

    “The House of Life” is a well done poem in fourteeners, now a rare form. You use it more easily than many Renaissance poets, whose lines tend to break in regular patterns, showing that they are really composing in shorter lines. Your lines have an elasticity that enables them to stretch gracefully. They suit the high theme of the poem. The Western American meaning of “fourteener” (a mountain over 14,000 feet) accords nicely.

    “The Ghosts of Winter” has an eerie quality about the first seven stanzas, where the spectral figures are yet unidentified. The abba rhyme scheme fits a poem in which the quatrains are mostly closed by a full stop, with a few judiciously placed overflows.

    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you so very much, Margaret, for taking the time to critique my poems. I like the way you describe the first seven stanzas of the second poem as having an “eerie quality.” You picked up how the mood changes after the seventh stanza– since the familiarity of the ghosts, who are now identified, introduces a tone of nostalgia, tender melancholy and longing for departed loved ones– a shift in mood that anticipates the final cheering note of hope in the promise of returning spring.

  7. Cynthia Erlandson

    “Ghosts of Winter” is full of great imagery. I especially like the second verse, describing the trees with a skeleton metaphor; and the line: “Within the haunted woodland of my mind”.

    • Martin Rizley

      Thanks Cynthia for sharing your thoughts. I am glad you glad you liked the imagery in the poem. I said to Paul A. Freeman above that I really have a fondness for English landscapes– especially misty, wintry landscapes and the mysterious mood they evoke (one painter I love whose landscapes often evoke that mysterious mood is John Atkinson Grimshaw– a fabulous painter whose landscapes were probably in the back of my mind when I wrote the poem. If you are not familiar with Grimshaw the following link takes you a montage of some of his paintings, with appropriate musical accompaniment:

  8. Jeff Eardley

    Martin, beautifully constructed and as lyrical as ever. I will be re-reading these in these dark days. I think most of us have lost loved ones at this time of year (My father on Christmas Eve) when the Ghosts of Winter are amongst us. I will think of “The House of Life” whenever I pass our local 11th Century Church of St. Edward. I felt the word “bright” in the last line of verse 3 could be omitted to maintain the perfect scan, but I may be wrong. Whatever, two most enjoyable seasonal poems. Thank you.

    • Martin Rizley

      Jeff, thank you for your feedback! You know, I was a bit unsure myself about the last line of verse 3 in the House of Life, because I didn´t know if the word “toward” counts as a one or two syllable word. In American English, it often sounds like sword, a one syllable word, but I notice the English tend to lay greater stress on the opening “to-” (to-ward), making it a two syllable word. I thought about changing “toward” to “to,” but the word “to” stresses the idea of destination whereas “toward” stresses the idea of direction, so “toward” seemed to fit better the context. That creates something of a problem metrically if I include the word “bright,” but I was reluctant to drop that word because of the way it contrasts with the “blackness where no moonlight shines” in verse 1 of that stanza.

      You mention the 11th century church of St. Edward where you live. That tells that you are obviously writing from the U.K., not the U.S.– no 11th century churches there!

  9. Jeff Eardley

    Martin, thank you. I knew I was wrong. I have read again with t’ward as one syllable and the scan is perfect. Yes, our noble church of St Edward is in the middle of England and features Pre Raphaelite windows. It has seen many dark days and it will remain a beacon of hope when all of this sadness is over. Best wishes to you and yours for a joyful Yule.

  10. David Watt

    Martin, these are both excellent examples of atmospheric poetry. “Ghosts of Winter” brings to mind memories of friends and family long departed, yet not forgotten. The beautiful accompanying picture struck me first, and your poems more than matched this introduction.


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