Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Poem From My Youth

photo from the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest found at

I'm starting off my month long series of spiritual things related to trees by honoring a man whose poem has forever replayed itself in my heart.

When I was a child I attended Joyce Kilmer Elementary School for 4th and 5th grade. Joyce Kilmer was a prolific poet who had lived in my hometown until his untimely death in WWI at the ripe old age of 31. I'll give a give few more bits about Joyce Kilmer after the poem, but here is his most famous prose that was required memorization at my school.


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.

Joyce Kilmer was born in 1886 in New Bruswick, NJ. During the short span of his life he was a journalist, poet, literary critic, lecturer and editor. A convert to Roman Catholicism from the Episcopal Church, he credits his conversion to a deep longing for "something not intellectual, some conviction or mental - in fact I wanted faith" [Letter from Joyce Kilmer to Fr. James J. Daly, 1/9/1914] (source: Wikipedia)

Kilmer was married with 5 children, and ultimately lost his life while serving as a sergeant in the 165th U.S. Infantry Regiment during WWI in 1918 by a sniper's bullet.

It is shameful for me to admit that for all the years I have enjoyed replaying Kilmer's poem in my heart, that I never knew much about this brave American Christian who so lovingly wrote these words. Forgive me Mr. Kilmer for my past usage of your poem in my own private spiritual musings without giving honor to your life. You are an extraordinary man.

Alfred Joyce Kilmer, May Your Memory Be Eternal!

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