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Short poem

Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)


(For Mrs. Henry Mills Alden)

              1I think that I shall never see
              2A poem as lovely as a tree.

              3A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
              4Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

              5A tree that looks at God all day,
              6And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

              7A tree that may in Summer wear
              8A nest of robins in her hair;

              9Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
            10Who intimately lives with rain.

            11Poems are made by fools like me,
            12But only God can make a tree.

Commentary by Ian Lancashire

I am grateful to Professor David L. Hoover of the Department of English at New York University for allowing me to publish his "interpretive travesty" of Kilmer's poem. Hoover presented this as part of his paper, "(De)Facing the Text: Irradiated Textuality and Deformed Interpretations," on November 19, 2004, at The Face of Text conference convened at McMaster University.


(c) David L. Hoover 2004

(For Mr. Joyce Kilmer)

He thinks that he will never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

But poems charm and poems please,
And many are lovelier than “Trees.”

A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast,

Can hardly look at God all day,
While lifting leafy arms to pray.

Where are her eyes, mouth, arms, and head?
Perhaps she lifts her legs instead.

Can that same tree in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair?

Perhaps her arms (or legs?) are hairy.
A tree like that should make one wary.

That bosom on which snow has lain?
You’ll search a tree for it in vain.

Unless . . . a hairy bosom too?
That tree belongs inside a zoo.

One line is good. I can’t complain
Of “intimately lives with rain.”

Bad poems persist; they sadden me.
Not even God could make that tree.

Online text copyright © 2004, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Joyce Kilmer, Trees and Other Poems (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1914), p. 18. PS 3521 I38T7 1914 Robarts Library.
First publication date: 1914
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 2:2002/3/27*1:2004/11/27

Form: couplets

Other poems by Joyce Kilmer