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About this poet

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.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

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)

The Peacemaker

Upon his will he binds a radiant chain,
    For Freedom’s sake he is no longer free.
    It is his task, the slave of Liberty,
With his own blood to wipe away a stain.
That pain may cease, he yields his flesh to pain.
    To banish war, he must a warrior be.
    He dwells in Night, eternal Dawn to see,
And gladly dies, abundant life to gain.

What matters Death, if Freedom be not dead?
    No flags are fair, if Freedom’s flag be furled.
Who fights for Freedom, goes with joyful tread
    To meet the fires of Hell against him hurled,
And has for captain Him whose thorn-wreathed head
    Smiles from the Cross upon a conquered world.

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Joyce Kilmer

Joyce Kilmer

Joyce Kilmer was born on December 6, 1886, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The author of Main Street and Other Poems (George H. Doran Company, 1917), he was killed while fighting in World War I.

by this poet

poem
Many laughing ladies, leisurely and wise,
Low rich voice, delicate gay cries,
Tea in fragile china cups, ices, macaroons,
Sheraton and Heppelwhite and old thin spoons,
Rather dim paintings on very high walls,
Windows showing lawns whereon the sunlight falls,
Pink and silver gardens and broad kind trees,
poem
          (for Aline)

Homer, they tell us, was blind and could not see the beautiful faces
Looking up into his own and reflecting the joy of his dream,
   Yet did he seem
Gifted with eyes that could follow the gods to their holiest places.

I
poem
         (For Alden March)

With dropping sail and pennant
    That never a wind may reach,
They float in sunless waters
    Beside a sunless beach.
Their mighty masts and funnels
    Are white as driven snow,
And with a pallid radiance
    Their ghostly bulwarks glow.

Here is a Spanish galleon
    That once