Alfred Joyce Kilmer was an American writer and poet mainly remembered for a short poem titled “Trees”, which was published in the collection Trees and Other Poems in 1914.
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Famous Joyce Kilmer Poems
When, on a novel’s newly printed page
We find a maudlin eulogy of sin,
And read of ways that harlots wander in,
And of sick souls that writhe in helpless rage;
Or when Romance, bespectacled and sage,
Taps on her desk and bids the class begin
To con the problems that have always been
Perplexed mankind’s unhappy heritage;
Then in what robes of honor habited
The laureled wizard of the North appears!
Who raised Prince Charlie’s cohorts from the dead,
Made Rose’s mirth and Flora’s noble tears,
And formed that shining legion at whose head
Rides Waverley, triumphant o’er the years!
For blows on the fort of evil
That never shows a breach,
For terrible life-long races
To a goal no foot can reach,
For reckless leaps into darkness
With hands outstretched to a star,
There is jubilation in Heaven
Where the great dead poets are.
There is joy over disappointment
And delight in hopes that were vain.
Each poet is glad there was no cure
To stop his lonely pain.
For nothing keeps a poet
In his high singing mood
Like unappeasable hunger
For unattainable food.
So fools are glad of the folly
That made them weep and sing,
And Keats is thankful for Fanny Brawne
And Drummond for his king.
They know that on flinty sorrow
And failure and desire
The steel of their souls was hammered
To bring forth the lyric fire.
Lord Byron and Shelley and Plunkett,
McDonough and Hunt and Pearse
See now why their hatred of tyrants
Was so insistently fierce.
Is Freedom only a Will-o’-the-wisp
To cheat a poet’s eye?
Be it phantom or fact, it’s a noble cause
In which to sing and to die!
So not for the Rainbow taken
And the magical White Bird snared
The poets sing grateful carols
In the place to which they have fared;
But for their lifetime’s passion,
The quest that was fruitless and long,
They chorus their loud thanksgiving
To the thorn-crowned Master of Song.
The Fourth Shepherd
On nights like this the huddled sheep
Are like white clouds upon the grass,
And merry herdsmen guard their sleep
And chat and watch the big stars pass.
It is a pleasant thing to lie
Upon the meadow on the hill
With kindly fellowship near by
Of sheep and men of gentle will.
I lean upon my broken crook
And dream of sheep and grass and men —
O shameful eyes that cannot look
On any honest thing again!
On bloody feet I clambered down
And fled the wages of my sin,
I am the leavings of the town,
And meanly serve its meanest inn.
I tramp the courtyard stones in grief,
While sleep takes man and beast to her.
And every cloud is calling “Thief!”
And every star calls “Murderer!”
The hand of God is sure and strong,
Nor shall a man forever flee
The bitter punishment of wrong.
The wrath of God is over me!
With ashen bread and wine of tears
Shall I be solaced in my pain.
I wear through black and endless years
Upon my brow the mark of Cain.
Poor vagabond, so old and mild,
Will they not keep him for a night?
And She, a woman great with child,
So frail and pitiful and white.
Good people, since the tavern door
Is shut to you, come here instead.
See, I have cleansed my stable floor
And piled fresh hay to make a bed.
Here is some milk and oaten cake.
Lie down and sleep and rest you fair,
Nor fear, O simple folk, to take
The bounty of a child of care.
On nights like this the huddled sheep —
I never saw a night so fair.
How huge the sky is, and how deep!
And how the planets flash and glare!
At dawn beside my drowsy flock
What winged music I have heard!
But now the clouds with singing rock
As if the sky were turning bird.
O blinding Light, O blinding Light!
Burn through my heart with sweetest pain.
O flaming Song, most loudly bright,
Consume away my deadly stain!
The stable glows against the sky,
And who are these that throng the way?
My three old comrades hasten by
And shining angels kneel and pray.
The door swings wide — I cannot go —
I must and yet I dare not see.
Lord, who am I that I should know —
Lord, God, be merciful to me!
O Whiteness, whiter than the fleece
Of new-washed sheep on April sod!
O Breath of Life, O Prince of Peace,
O Lamb of God, O Lamb of God!
Servant Girl And Grocer’s Boy
Her lips’ remark was: “Oh, you kid!”
Her soul spoke thus (I know it did):
“O king of realms of endless joy,
My own, my golden grocer’s boy,
I am a princess forced to dwell
Within a lonely kitchen cell,
While you go dashing through the land
With loveliness on every hand.
Your whistle strikes my eager ears
Like music of the choiring spheres.
The mighty earth grows faint and reels
Beneath your thundering wagon wheels.
How keenly, perilously sweet
To cling upon that swaying seat!
How happy she who by your side
May share the splendors of that ride!
Ah, if you will not take my hand
And bear me off across the land,
Then, traveller from Arcady,
Remain awhile and comfort me.
What other maiden can you find
So young and delicate and kind?”
Her lips’ remark was: “Oh, you kid!”
Her soul spoke thus (I know it did).
The Apartment House
Severe against the pleasant arc of sky
The great stone box is cruelly displayed.
The street becomes more dreary from its shade,
And vagrant breezes touch its walls and die.
Here sullen convicts in their chains might lie,
Or slaves toil dumbly at some dreary trade.
How worse than folly is their labor made
Who cleft the rocks that this might rise on high!
Yet, as I look, I see a woman’s face
Gleam from a window far above the street.
This is a house of homes, a sacred place,
By human passion made divinely sweet.
How all the building thrills with sudden grace
Beneath the magic of Love’s golden feet!
Within the broken Vatican
The murdered Pope is lying dead.
The soldiers of Valerian
Their evil hands are wet and red.
Unarmed, unmoved, St. Laurence waits,
His cassock is his only mail.
The troops of Hell have burst the gates,
But Christ is Lord, He shall prevail.
They have encompassed him with steel,
They spit upon his gentle face,
He smiles and bleeds, nor will reveal
The Church’s hidden treasure-place.
Ah, faithful steward, worthy knight,
Well hast thou done. Behold thy fee!
Since thou hast fought the goodly fight
A martyr’s death is fixed for thee.
St. Laurence, pray for us to bear
The faith which glorifies thy name.
St. Laurence, pray for us to share
The wounds of Love’s consuming flame.
Mid-Ocean In War-Time
The fragile splendour of the level sea,
The moon’s serene and silver-veiled face,
Make of this vessel an enchanted place
Full of white mirth and golden sorcery.
Now, for a time, shall careless laughter be
Blended with song, to lend song sweeter grace,
And the old stars, in their unending race,
Shall heed and envy young humanity.
And yet to-night, a hundred leagues away,
These waters blush a strange and awful red.
Before the moon, a cloud obscenely grey
Rises from decks that crash with flying lead.
And these stars smile their immemorial way
On waves that shroud a thousand newly dead!
The New School
The halls that were loud with the merry tread of young and careless feet
Are still with a stillness that is too drear to seem like holiday,
And never a gust of laughter breaks the calm of the dreaming street
Or rises to shake the ivied walls and frighten the doves away.
The dust is on book and on empty desk, and the tennis-racquet and balls
Lie still in their lonely locker and wait for a game that is never played,
And over the study and lecture-room and the river and meadow falls
A stern peace, a strange peace, a peace that War has made.
For many a youthful shoulder now is gay with an epaulet,
And the hand that was deft with a cricket-bat is defter with a sword,
And some of the lads will laugh to-day where the trench is red and wet,
And some will win on the bloody field the accolade of the Lord.
They have taken their youth and mirth away
from the study and playing-ground
To a new school in an alien land beneath an alien sky;
Out in the smoke and roar of the fight their lessons and games are found,
And they who were learning how to live are learning how to die.
And after the golden day has come and the war is at an end,
A slab of bronze on the chapel wall will tell of the noble dead.
And every name on that radiant list will be the name of a friend,
A name that shall through the centuries in grateful prayers be said.
And there will be ghosts in the old school,
brave ghosts with laughing eyes,
On the field with a ghostly cricket-bat, by the stream with a ghostly rod;
They will touch the hearts of the living with a flame that sanctifies,
A flame that they took with strong young hands
from the altar-fires of God.
I went to gather roses and twine them in a ring,
For I would make a posy, a posy for the King.
I got an hundred roses, the loveliest there be,
From the white rose vine and the pink rose bush and from the red
But when I took my posy and laid it at His feet
I found He had His roses a million times more sweet.
There was a scarlet blossom upon each foot and hand,
And a great pink rose bloomed from His side for the healing of the
Now of this fair and awful King there is this marvel told,
That He wears a crown of linked thorns instead of one of gold.
Where there are thorns are roses, and I saw a line of red,
A little wreath of roses around His radiant head.
A red rose is His Sacred Heart, a white rose is His face,
And His breath has turned the barren world to a rich and flowery
He is the Rose of Sharon, His gardener am I,
And I shall drink His fragrance in Heaven when I die.
The Ballade Of Butterflies
Because we never build a nest
And no one of us ever sings,
We are the butt of every jest
That strutting loud-mouthed robin flings.
Unless the field with laughter rings
And we are meek in our replies
His claws and beak to bear he brings;
Have pity on all butterflies!
Since we are of no home possessed,
And have no joy in courts and kings,
And love on working-days to rest,
The name of ‘Idlers’ to us clings.
On all our gypsy travellings
They follow us with jeering cries.
From every rose a spider springs;
Have pity on all butterflies!
A little thing is our request-
Some peace from nets of sticks and strings,
An hour to feel the sunlight’s zest,
To ‘scape the deadly bee that stings.
From hostile fortune’s bolts and slings
Give us release ere Summer dies-
We dread the Winter’s threatenings;
Have pity on all butterflies!
Great Pan, kind lord of living things,
Look on us now with friendly eyes.
We pray to you on trembling wings,
Have pity on all butterflies!
Age Comes A-Wooing
With shameless and incessant lust
Thy tremulous hot hands are thrust
Upon my body’s loveliness.
O loathsome Age, thy foul caress
Puts on my heart a deadly blight,
Withers my hair to leprous white,
Binds fetters on my eager feet
That once on Springtime’s road were fleet
To bear me to Love’s shining goal.
Now bitter tides of sorrow roll
To drown me in a sea of woe
And God looks on, and wills it so!
Give over thy pursuing, Age!
Fearest thou not my lover’s rage?
For he is young and strong of limb,
Thou canst not stand a bout with him.
Ah, surely he will laugh to see
So wan a suitor wooing me.
Then with wild scorn his heart will swell
And he will fling thee back to hell.
O Love, that stronger art than Death,
Enfold me from the burning breath
Of Age that has grown amorous,
That sears and blasts me. Even thus,
Men say, his passionate embrace
Spoils maids and flowers of their grace,
And every woman’s fate is cast
To be his paramour at last.
And so all lovely things are made
Shameful, and in the ashes laid,
To die alone, uncared for. Such
Is the pollution of his touch.
Stars that have shone since Time began,
Rivers that saw the birth of man,
And mountains that are fair and green,
And were, when Helen was a queen,
White dreams that never can grow old,
Stories of love and glory told
By Homer once, and ballads sung
Eons ago- ye still are young.
Tell me the secret of your youth.
Can any weeping fill with ruth
Age, that is harsh and pitiless?
Nay, they are blind to my distress.
They have not feared the grasping hand
Of Age, and cannot understand.
Love saw my whitened hair and laughed
And bid me drain my bitter draught.
While in my lover’s startled eyes
A lurking terror strangely lies.
There is no place in which to hide
When Age comes seeking for his bride.
My songs should be as lilies fair,
And roses made of crimson light,
To lie amid the fragrant hair
And on the breast of my delight.
Such glory is for them too high;
I’ll scatter them adown the street,
And when my love is passing by
They will rise up and kiss her feet.
The Big Top
The boom and blare of the big brass band is cheering
to my heart
And I like the smell of the trampled grass and elephants and hay.
I take off my hat to the acrobat with his delicate, strong art,
And the motley mirth of the chalk-faced clown drives all my care
I wish I could feel as they must feel, these players
brave and fair,
Who nonchalantly juggle death before a staring throng.
It must be fine to walk a line of silver in the air
And to cleave a hundred feet of space with a gesture like a song.
Sir Henry Irving never knew a keener, sweeter thrill
Than that which stirs the breast of him who turns his painted face
To the circling crowd who laugh aloud and clap hands with a will
As a tribute to the clown who won the great wheel-barrow race.
Now, one shall work in the living rock with a mallet
and a knife,
And another shall dance on a big white horse that canters round
By another’s hand shall colours stand in similitude of life;
And the hearts of the three shall be moved by one mysterious high
For the sculptor and the acrobat and the painter
are the same.
They know one hope, one fear, one pride, one sorrow and one mirth,
And they take delight in the endless fight for the fickle world’s
For they worship art above the clouds and serve her on the earth.
But you, who can build of the stubborn rock no
form of loveliness,
Who can never mingle the radiant hues to make a wonder live,
Who can only show your little woe to the world in a rhythmic dress
What kind of a counterpart of you does the three-ring circus give?
Well – here in the little side-show tent to-day
some people stand,
One is a giant, one a dwarf, and one has a figured skin,
And each is scarred and seared and marred by Fate’s relentless hand,
And each one shows his grief for pay, with a sort of pride therein.
You put your sorrow into rhyme and want the world
You sing the news of your ruined hope and want the world to hear;
Their woe is pent in a canvas tent and yours in a printed book.
O, poet of the broken heart, salute your brothers here!
Queen Elizabeth Speaks
My hands were stained with blood, my heart was
proud and cold,
My soul is black with shame . . . but I gave Shakespeare gold.
So after aeons of flame, I may, by grace of God,
Rise up to kiss the dust that Shakespeare’s feet have trod.
Gates and Doors
There was a gentle hostler
(And blessed be his name!)
He opened up the stable
The night Our Lady came.
Our Lady and Saint Joseph,
He gave them food and bed,
And Jesus Christ has given him
A glory round his head.
So let the gate swing open
However poor the yard,
Lest weary people visit you
And find their passage barred;
Unlatch the door at midnight
And let your lantern’s glow
Shine out to guide the traveler’s
To you across the snow.
There was a courteous hostler
(He is in Heaven to-night)
He held Our Lady’s bridle
And helped her to alight;
He spread clean straw before her
Whereon she might lie down,
And Jesus Christ has given him
An everlasting crown.
Unlock the door this evening
And let your gate swing wide,
Let all who ask for shelter
Come speedily inside.
What if your yard be narrow?
What if your house be small?
There is a Guest is coming
Will glorify it all.
There was a joyous hostler
Who knelt on Christmas morn
Beside the radiant manger
Wherein his Lord was born.
His heart was full of laughter,
His soul was full of bliss
When Jesus, on His Mother’s lap,
Gave him His hand to kiss.
Unbar your heart this evening
And keep no stranger out,
Take from your soul’s great portal
The barrier of doubt.
To humble folk and weary
Give hearty welcoming,
Your breast shall be to-morrow
The cradle of a King.
Tired clerks, pale girls, street cleaners, business men,
Boys, priests and harlots, drunkards, students, thieves,
Each one the pleasant outer sunshine leaves;
They mingle in this stifling, loud-wheeled pen.
The gate clangs to- we stir- we sway- and then
We thunder through the dark. The long train weaves
Its gloomy way. At last above the eaves
We see awhile God’s day, then night again.
Hurled through the dark- day at Manhattan Street,
The rest all night. That is my life, it seems.
Through sunless ways go my reluctant feet.
The sunlight comes in transitory gleams.
And yet the darkness makes the light more sweet,
The perfect light about me- in my dreams.
In Memory of Rupert Brooke
In alien earth, across a troubled sea,
His body lies that was so fair and young.
His mouth is stopped, with half his songs unsung;
His arm is still, that struck to make men free.
But let no cloud of lamentation be
Where, on a warrior’s grave, a lyre is hung.
We keep the echoes of his golden tongue,
We keep the vision of his chivalry.
So Israel’s joy, the loveliest of kings,
Smote now his harp, and now the hostile horde.
To-day the starry roof of Heaven rings
With psalms a soldier made to praise his Lord;
And David rests beneath Eternal wings,
Song on his lips, and in his hand a sword.
The roar of the world is in my ears.
Thank God for the roar of the world!
Thank God for the mighty tide of fears
Against me always hurled!
Thank God for the bitter and ceaseless strife,
And the sting of His chastening rod!
Thank God for the stress and the pain of life,
And Oh, thank God for God!