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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)

Wartime Christmas

Led by a star, a golden star,
The youngest star, an olden star,
Here the kings and the shepherds are,
Akneeling on the ground.
What did they come to the inn to see?
God in the Highest, and this is He,
A baby asleep on His mother’s knee
And with her kisses crowned.

Now is the earth a dreary place,
A troubled place, a weary place.
Peace has hidden her lovely face
And turned in tears away.
Yet the sun, through the war-cloud, sees
Babies asleep on their mother’s knees.
While there are love and home—and these—
There shall be Christmas Day.

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
         (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
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 Edward J. Wheeler)

Within the Jersey City shed
The engine coughs and shakes its head.
The smoke, a plume of red and white,
Waves madly in the face of night.
And now the grave incurious stars
Gleam on the groaning hurrying cars.
Against the kind and awful reign
Of darkness, this our angry train