Friday, August 23, 2013

A Good Bad Poem

Photo of Federal Hill Park by Kathleen Tyler Conklin

An essay by Thomas Vinciguerra in the New York Times Book Review of August 18th critiques the hundred year old poem "Trees" by Joyce Kilmer.

There is ingrained in the subconscious of many Americans the first two lines of Kilmer's poem "I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree."  and they leap readily to our national lips. Most critics (including Vinciguerra) think "Trees"  is a terrible poem and it has been parodied by many.

It wasn't the only poem that Kilmer wrote.  According to Vinciguerra, he wrote several volumes equally simplistic and sappy before he was killed in World War 1 at age 31. Perhaps had he the chance, he would have grown into a better poet.

Does he have no defenders?  George Orwell defends Kipling's "Mandalay" as a good bad poem writes Vinciguerra, a term that seems applicable to Kilmer's works.  We can all get some enjoyment out of these seemingly trite verses. We remember Kilmer's "Trees" and relate on an emotional level. Though perhaps not moved profoundly, if it makes us once look up from our technological devices to take in the beauty of a tree, it is a poem worth reading and remembering.

Happy Birthday to "Trees".  May you live another hundred years.

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