Joyce Kilmer and the Fighting 69th

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.

That poem written by Alfred Joyce Kilmer, better known as Joyce Kilmer, in 1914 is, unfortunately, all most Americans remember todayis regrettable, because he was a devout Catholic and an American patriot and he deserves better than relative historical oblivion.

 Born in 1886 into an Episcopalian family in New Brunswick , New Jersey,  Kilmer studied at the Rutgers College Grammar School, Rutgers College and graduated from Colombia in 1908.  Shortly after graduation he married Aline Murray, the love of his life, a poet in her own right.  Together they had a happy home and five children to fill it.

Initially teaching Latin in Morristown, New Jersey, Kilmer quickly embarked on a literary life, submitting essays and poems to the various magazines of the day.  From 1909 to 1912 he worked on the Funk and Wagnalls’ Dictionary.  In 1912 he became literary editor of The Churchman, a publication of the Episcopalian Church.  In 1913 he made the leap to being an ink-stained wretch and became a features writer for the New York Times.

In 1912 the Kilmers welcomed into this world their third child and second daughter, Rosamond (called Rose) Kilburn Kilmer.  Rose was afflicted with infantile paralysis.  A sick child often causes parents to look seriously at their faith, and the Kilmers were no different. Their conversion to Catholicism was no doubt helped along by Father James J. Daly, SJ, who became a good friend to the Kilmers after Rose’s birth, and who had been from 1898-1908 chaplain of the Fighting 69th, a New York National Guard regiment that was to play such a dominating role in Kilmer’s future.  Here is some of Kilmer’s correspondence with Father Daly that continued until Kilmer’s death.  In 1914, Kilmer wrote to Father Daly about his conversion: (more…)

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Published in: on March 13, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (3)  
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