I really never liked the Joyce Kilmer’s poem Trees. I had to memorize it in 4th grade and recite it without barfing in front of the class. No, I wasn’t suffering from stage fright – even at that tender age I loathed excessive sentimentality. It may be that my brain is turning to mush, or that my life-long struggle to grok and sometimes hit a universal note in my writing is finally paying off (even today people love Trees), but I did feel a rather grudging respect for some of the imagery when I read it again, as if for the first time, in reaction to today’s prompt. The line about the hungry mouth prest (his spelling not mine) to Earth’s sweet flowing breast-though incredibly embarrassing at the time-is really gorgeous and I think brave, considering he wrote it in 1918. Trees made him famous and his words immortal in the way only poetry can survive death. It also made him an easy target for many other poets, most notably Ogden Nash.
So, I admit it’s a cheap shot and I did try this with some of my favorites, but it made me queasy. Nevertheless, I send a deep bow Kilmer’s way, wherever he may be (I pray he’s been digested by a tree); we should all be so lucky as to write a poem as famous as his.
Poetry: With Apologies to Joyce Kilmer and the Trees About Which He Wrote
I think that I’ll never see a tree
lovely as a poem can be.
A tree is tied to Earth’s sweet breast
but poems travel east and west;
saunter, run, crawl, dance, fly, play
sometimes curse and sometimes pray.
A poem outlasts the centuries’ wear
is intimate with fox and hare,
makes cat feet out of fog and rain
strolls with us down Lover’s Lane.
The Goddess blesses fools and trees
but saves her heart for poetry.