Joyce Kilmer was born on December 6, 1886, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Kilmer attended Rutgers Preparatory School and graduated in 1904. He then attended Rutgers College from 1904 to 1906 but then transferred to Columbia University, where he completed his bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1908. That same year, he married poet Aline Murray.
After Kilmer graduated college, he took a job teaching Latin at a high school in Morristown, New Jersey, and also wrote features for The Literary Digest, The Nation, Town & Country, and The New York Times. From 1909 to 1912, he worked for Funk and Wagnalls, writing definitions for The Standard Dictionary and continued to write magazine articles for publication.
In 1911, Kilmer published his first poetry collection, A Summer of Love (The Baker & Taylor Company). Two years later, he published what would become his most famous poem, “Trees,” in Poetry magazine. The poem was included in his second collection, Trees and Other Poems (Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1914). Though “Trees” is recognizable by many, it has also been criticized for its mixed metaphors and simplicity, as has some of Kilmer’s other poetry, which reflects on religion and nature with traditional, conservative verse.
In 1917 Kilmer published his last poetry collection, Main Street and Other Poems (George H. Doran Company, 1917). That same year he enlisted in the U.S. Army to serve in World War I, during which time he continued to write poems while fighting in the famous “Fighting Sixty-ninth” Regiment. On July 30, 1918, he died of a gunshot from a German sniper.
Main Street and Other Poems (George H. Doran Company, 1917)
Trees and Other Poems (Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1914)
A Summer of Love (The Baker & Taylor Company)