tree of life


The silver maple outside my family home remains there, a strong old patriarch, losing a little girth and mass every year but still standing guard. It’s like a scarred sentinel, in place throughout all seasons. It was a solid, monument and friend when I was very young, ancient and wise even then.

Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees”, first published in 1913, certainly is not a great poem. But I wonder how many school children learned it and recited it in school between its publication and the 1960s when America lost its innocence and its patience for poems of overwrought personification and Catholic self-flagellation.

I still like it.


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

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

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

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

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

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

Joyce Kilmer
Kilmer 1908 columbia yearbook picture.png

Joyce Kilmer 1886-1918 at Columbia University

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