Mom poked her head shyly into my home office and asked, “Have you heard of Joyce Kilmer?” I had not. “Well, I thought you might like to make a post about him sometime.” As I listened to her story, I thought, Indeed, I would. She held up a piece choir music, Kilmer’s 1913 poem “Trees” set to song in 1922. In the late 1960s, Mom sang with a group of church ladies who called themselves the Singing Mothers (“a stupid name” Mom lamented) from congregations all over New Jersey. They rehearsed in the Piscataway church building, the Hightstown high school building, and elsewhere in northern and central Jersey. Mom sometimes dragged me and baby Megan along to rehearsals, though I was too young to remember. During one rehearsal, Megan had a slight fever, from a cold, and Mom had put a bottle of children’s aspirin in her purse. These were the days before Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Motrin (ibuprofen)—aspirin was the fever-reducing miracle medicine of the time—and before child-proof caps. The baby pawed through Mom’s purse, opened the aspirin bottle, and chewed up the whole bottleful of aspirin. Mom rushed Megan to the hospital where nurses pumped the baby’s stomach. On occasion, our Church held conferences in Manhattan, and for one conference the Singing Mothers were invited to sing. Mom hopped on the train to New York City and joined in the performance of Joyce Kilmer’s and Oscar Rasbach’s “Trees.” While some consider “Trees” overly sentimental, the poem became popular and beloved across America. An American poet, Joyce Kilmer earned a one-paragraph entry in World Book Encyclopedia (1990 ed.). New Brunswick, New Jersey, where Kilmer was born, and where Dad later worked for Johnson and Johnson for 30 years, boasts a Joyce Kilmer Avenue. Kilmer died in 1918 in France in The Great War, by a sniper’s bullet.
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.
(Images from Wikipedia and Rutgers University. Used pursuant to the Fair Use Doctrine.)
Joyce Kilmer’s House is still in New Brunswick,on the street named for him, and IIRC, there’s a memorial stained glass window to him at Rutgers’ Kirkpatrick Chapel.
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