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Joyce Kilmer: Little Known Facts About the Author of the Poem "Trees"

Poet Joyce Kilmer

Poet Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see

When I was in high school in the mid-1970's we had to learn a poem that I recall to this day. It is by Joyce Kilmer and the title is "Trees." Here it is in its entirety.

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

This beloved poem is my favorite and the last two lines always make me misty-eyed to think about the Creator and His creation. I had assumed that Joyce Kilmer was a female, until 1999. I was writing 3 sample articles to submit to a newspaper that I later wrote a column for from 1999-2009. The name of the column was "Think About It." My second sample article used the line, from "Trees," "Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree." The following Sunday the church I was attending had a guest Bishop to speak. When he said the title of his message was Selah Think About It, I knew the Lord was speaking directly to me. His title was the same one I was going to use for my column. I knew this was more than a mere coincidence.



Mr. Joyce Kilmer

This Bishop had taught a leadership seminar on the preceding Friday evening and Saturday. I did not attend and two people told me I really missed good services. I told them that if God wanted me to hear this man, I would hear him. This Bishop was supposed to go back to Atlanta and one for the church elders was supposed to speak on Sunday. When he stayed in town to do the message I was sure the Lord was confirming that I was indeed to write the newspaper column. In the middle of his message, he said, "A tree who looks at God all day and lifts her leafy arms to pray." I was so excited I almost started shouting, He had referenced the same poem but used a different line. Mr. Joyce Kilmer was making a lasting impression on me. I shared this with a church elder who later gave me a paper she had downloaded about the author of Trees. iTo my surprise, "Joyce" Kilmer was a man. This is not the only fact that may not be known about the poet, so read on to learn more.

Sargent Joyce Kilmer.

Sargent Joyce Kilmer.

Just the facts

The popular poet was born Alfred Joyce Kilmer in New Brunswick, New Jersey on December 6, 1886. He was the fourth and youngest child of Dr. Frederick Barnett Kilmer and Annie Ellen Kilmer. His parents later had a fifth child. His father was a physician and also an analytical chemist who was employed by the Johnson and Johnson company. Dr. Frederick Kilmer is the person who created the famous Johnson's baby powder. On June 9, 1908, the poet married Aline Murray who was also a poet and published author. In April of 1917, Kilmer enlisted in the US Army during WWI and was killed in battle during the second battle of Marine. On July 30, 1918, Sgt. Kilmer led a scouting party that was trying to locate the position of a German machine gun. Sometime later, his comrades found him, seemingly peering over the edge of a small hill, where they supposed he had crawled in order to obtain a better view. When they called and he did not answer they ran to Kilmer and found he was dead, from a bullet to the skull. Some scholars dismiss Joyce Kilmer's poetry as overly sentimental, but Trees is his most popular poem. The poem connects nature to the one who created it all. Almost every time I read the line, "Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree" I cry. The reality that there are some things that we humans simply cannot accomplish shows just how much we must depend on the One who is Lord over all of us.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Cheryl E Preston


Cheryl E Preston (author) from Roanoke on August 22, 2020:

Thank you for reading.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 22, 2020:

When I saw the title to this article I immediately thought it was a womN. This is an interesting artcle and I remember this poem. I didn't have it memorized like you though. I don't believe coinsidence either. If we are meant to hear something or meet someone we will. I know God is in charge and I trust the Lord for everything/ I hope you are having a nice weekend.

Lorna Lamon on August 22, 2020:

I haven't read this poem in years, and I remember thinking 'how beautiful' at the time. In reading it again, those first impressions still remain. The last two lines sum it up for me. Thank you for sharing.

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