Joyce Kilmer's Trees

Joyce Kilmer, the early 20th Century poet, is most famous for "Trees":


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.


The poem was published in 1912, the same year Kilmer converted to Catholicism.  The twenty-six-year-old graduate of Columbia became an overnight sensation, his popularity at the time surpassing that established poets like T.S. Eliot and William Butler Yeats.  In subsequent years, poetry contests would be named after Kilmer, not to mention parks and other national monuments (see, for example, the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in North Carolina or the Joyce Kilmer Service Area on the New Jersey Turnpike). 

Kilmer was not so much interesting in praising nature as he was in praising God.  Kilmer was a deeply committed Catholic.  He lectured at the University of Notre Dame.  He wrote poems about the saints and the Eucharist, as well as a book, Dreams and Images: An Anthology of Catholic Poets.  He composed prayers.

Kilmer's life was cut tragically short when he was killed in action in WWI on July 30, 1918.  The father of five had enlisted voluntarily in the 165th Infantry Regiment, previously known as the 'Irish Brigade,' dating back to the Civil War (Kilmer was a devotee of Ireland).  Kilmer, fervently patriotic, believed in the righteousness of the cause, so much so he was willing to risk all he had. 

Joyce Kilmer's Catholic faith led him to do great things for God.

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