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On the Lighter Side: A Look at Joyce Kilmer

Joe Guilbeau

This is the story about the incredible life of Joyce Kilmer.

Kilmer was born on Dec. 6, 1886, in New Brunswick, N.J. Though a prolific poet whose works celebrated the common beauty of the natural world as well as his Roman Catholic faith, Kilmer was also a journalist, literary critic, lecturer, editor and soldier.

Joe Guilbeau

Many writers, including Ogden Nash, have parodied Kilmer’s work and style, as attested by the many parodies of “Trees.”

The name Joyce came from the Rev. Dr. Elisha Brooks Joyce, a priest at Christ Church of the oldest Episcopal parish in New Brunswick, where the Kilmer family were parishioners. Rector Joyce baptized the young Kilmer, who remained an Episcopalian until his 1913 conversion to Catholicism.

Kilmer’s birthplace in New Brunswick, where the Kilmer family lived, is still standing as a museum to Kilmer, as well as a few Middlesex County Government offices.

His alma maters are Rutgers College and Columbia University. For his valor as a soldier in France, Kilmer was posthumously awarded the Crode Guerre (War Cross) by the French Republic.

Kilmer was once employed by Funk & Wagnalls, which was preparing an edition of the standard dictionary that would be published in 1912.

Kilmer’s job was to define ordinary words to him, at five cents for each word defined. Kilmer was well prepared for this work since he had been a special writer for The New York Review of Books and The New York Times Sunday Magazine.

In April 1917, a few days after the United States entered World War I. Kilmer enlisted in the service regiment of the New York National Guard. He was assigned with the U.S. 69TH Infantry Regiment.

Kilmer was killed by a sniper’s bullet during the Second Battle of Marine in France during World War I. Kilmer was buried in the American Cemetery and Memorial near Aisne Picardy, France – just across the road and stream from the farm where he was killed. A memorial Mass was celebrated at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on Oct. 14, 1918.

“Trees”

By Joyce Kilmer

I think I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.

His legendary poems live on after 100 years. He died at age 32.