A poem from childhood came to mind today. It was written more than a hundred years ago by a poet named Joyce Kilmer. He was a multi-talented writer but is mainly known for the poem pictured below. The poem was set to music and when I think of this particular poem, I mostly think of it being sung (rather than recited). In the spirit of this poem’s age, I’m including a weblink of the song recorded by Paul Robeson and played on an old scratchy record. Some songs are meant to be heard via the imperfect quality of a phonograph needle.
The simplicity of Kilmer’s poem has through the years invited its share of criticism and condescension. The religious sentiment of the poem has also drawn a multitude of detractors and even parodies and spoofs. Personally, I’ve always appreciated the poem’s sentiments as well as its simplicity.
When this poem came to mind today, I was driving down my driveway and spied a tree lying horizontally in the yard. You and I both know that’s not how trees are meant to grow. It was easy to deduce what had happened. The high winds we had today took this weakened tree and pummeled it … not the first time this has happened. I think these trees are called Bradford Pears, and they’re fast-growing but weak. Whenever there’s a fierce wind (or ice storm), we expect them to break off or be blown over.
But today, I have to admit, when I saw that tree on the ground (actually, as the picture to the right shows, it was only part of the tree) I also went straight for the parody poem! In retrospect, perhaps the ordinariness of Kilmer’s original poem easily lends itself to parody, but I’ve always understood imitation to be the sincerest form of flattery. This poem has been multiply imitated and Kilmer therefore multiply flattered.
Kilmer’s original poem is a sleek twelve lines long, less than a sonnet. It features six rhyming couplets, economical and unambiguous. Trees focuses on the personification along feminine lines of a non-specified tree. The poem is perfect in length and symmetry for a child to memorize. Add the music and it’s a cinch. A child who reflects on the poem will easily visualize the beauty and complexity of trees.
With due respect to the artistry and inspiration of poet Joyce Kilmer, I offer below my poem, modeled loosely after his masterwork. Also, since tomorrow is Veterans’ Day, I note the poet’s military service during World War I plus his tragic end in battle from a sniper’s bullet at the young age of thirty-one. I salute his service and his family’s sacrifice (he left behind a wife and five children).