LiTREEture 1: Kilmer’s TREES
Welcome to a new week here on DDoA! After learning about Singapore’s Super Trees last week, I was inspired to do another week on trees. This time, I bring you a series called LiTREEture– trees that have some significance in literature.
We start with Joyce Kilmer’s poem “TREES”. This literary piece is loved the world over; however, it is especially dear to me because it’s a poem that my late grandma FULGENCIA LEE loved to recite to us when she came to visit. And even the last time I saw her just a few months before she passed away at the ripe age of 96, she recited this poem with much accuracy and with such contagious enthusiasm and passion…
by Joyce Kilmer, 1913
Photo from Columbia University
yearbook, photo circa 1908
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.
from Poem Hunter
Learn more about Joyce Kilmer
“Journalist and poet Joyce Kilmer was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1886. Known for poetry that celebrated the common beauty of the natural world as well as his religious faith, he was killed after enlisting in the United States Army during World War I. He was only 31 years old. Kilmer was awarded by the French the prestigious Croix de Guerre (War Cross) for his bravery, and a section of National Forest in North Carolina is named after him. ..”Read more on PoetryFoundation
You wonder what inspired him to write TREES?
Perhaps the answer lies in this home
in Mahwah, New Jersey?
The home of poet, essayist and critic Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)
and his family in Mahwah, New Jersey.
Here he wrote the beloved poem “Trees” in 1913.
Kenton, Kilmer’s oldest son says…
“It was written in the afternoon in the intervals of some other writing. The desk was in an upstairs room, by a window looking down a wooded hill. It was written in a little notebook in which his father and mother wrote out copies of several of their poems, and, in most cases, added the date of composition. On one page the first two lines of ‘Trees’ appear, with the date, February 2, 1913, and on another page, further on in the book, is the full text of the poem. It was dedicated to his wife’s mother,
Mrs. Henry Mills Alden, who was endeared to all her family.”
People talk about which tree or region may have influenced the writing of this poem and here’s the official response of Kilmer’s family:
“Mother and I agreed, when we talked about it, that Dad never meant his poem to apply to one particular tree, or to the trees of any special region. Just any trees or all trees that might be rained on or snowed on, and that would be suitable nesting places for robins. I guess they’d have to have upward-reaching branches, too, for the line about ‘lifting leafy arms to pray.’ Rule out weeping willows.”
–Kenton Kilmer, Joyce’s oldest son
“Poet Joyce Kilmer: Rooted in Mahwah- Unraveling Joyce Kilmer’s inspiration, 100 years after the publication of “Trees” on NEW JERSEY Monthly
Here are a few ‘creations’ inspired by Kilmer’s Poem “TREES”:
I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree
Indeed, unless the billboards fall
I’ll never see a tree at all.
“Only God Can Make A Tree”
“In 1938, the US federal government purchased 3,800 acres of old growth forest in North Carolina to stop extensive logging. The tract of forest was dedicated to the memory and service of Kilmer. His name has also been given to many streets and schools across the country as well as a park in the Bronx…” from The Poetry Foundation