Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Trees by Joyce Kilmer

In honor of Earth Day, a "bonus" poem for this month's ongoing celebration of National Poetry Month, and one that many folks I know can recite in whole or in part from memory, particularly the first two lines:

Trees
by Joyce Kilmer

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.


Analysis of the poem: The poem is written in iambic tetrameter (four iambic feet per line, taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM) in rhymed couplets. Its apparent simplicity has led to quite a number of parodies over the year, including one by Ogden Nash bemoaning the abundance of billboards along the road. Despite its simple form and somewhat sentimental nature, I cannot help but love this poem, so here it is.

About Joyce Kilmer: He was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1886. He taught Latin for a while, then worked for Funk and Wagnalls defining words for their dictionary (5 cents per word defined). He published his first book of verse in 1911, and in 1913, his poem "Trees" appeared in Poetry Magazine, leading to nearly immediate popularity as a poet. In 1917, Kilmer enlisted in the military and headed off to war. He died in 1918 on a scouting mission to locate a German machine gun. He's buried in France, with a memorial and a Turnpike rest area dedicated to him in New Jersey, along with a number of schools in New Jersey and elsewhere, a park in the Bronx, and a forest in North Carolina.

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