Tribute to Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)

Joe Guilbeau, Humorist

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

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

Many writers, including notably 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 and houses a museum to Kilmer, as well as a few Middlesex County government officers.

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

Kilmer was once employed by Funk and Wagnalls, which was preparing an edition of the Standard Dictionary that would be published in 1912. Kilmer's job was to define ordinary words assigned 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 Seventh Regiment of the New York National Guard. He was assigned with the U.S. 69th Infantry Regiment better known as the "Fighting – 69th."

Kilmer was killed by a sniper's bullet during the Second Battle of Marine in France during World War I. Kilimer was buried in the America 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 October 14, 1918.

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