On one page the first two lines of 'Trees' appear, with the date, February 2, , and on another page, further on in the book, is the full text of the poem. It was dedicated to his wife's mother, Mrs. Henry Mills Alden, who was endeared to all her family. In , the notebook alluded to by Kilmer's son was uncovered by journalist and Kilmer researcher Alex Michelini in Georgetown University 's Lauinger Library in a collection of family papers donated to the university by Kilmer's granddaughter, Miriam Kilmer.
Kilmer's poetry was influenced by "his strong religious faith and dedication to the natural beauty of the world. Although several communities across the United States claim to have inspired "Trees",     nothing can be established specifically regarding Kilmer's inspiration except that he wrote the poem while residing in Mahwah. Both Kilmer's widow, Aline, and his son, Kenton, refuted these claims in their correspondence with researchers and by Kenton in his memoir.
Mother and I agreed, when we talked about it, that Dad never meant his poem to apply to one particular tree, or to the trees of any special region. Just any trees or all trees that might be rained on or snowed on, and that would be suitable nesting places for robins. I guess they'd have to have upward-reaching branches, too, for the line about 'lifting leafy arms to pray. According to Kenton Kilmer, the upstairs room in which the poem was written looked down the hill over the family's "well-wooded lawn" that contained "trees of many kinds, from mature trees to thin saplings: oaks, maples, black and white birches, and I do not know what else.
The house stood in the middle of a forest and what lawn it possessed was obtained only after Kilmer had spent months of weekend toil in chopping down trees, pulling up stumps, and splitting logs. Kilmer's neighbors had difficulty in believing that a man who could do that could also be a poet. 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.
All but one of the lines has the full eight syllables of iambic tetrameter. The eleventh, or penultimate, line begins on the stressed syllable of the iambic foot and drops the unstressed syllable—an acephalous or "headless" catalectic line—that results in a truncated seven-syllable iambic tetrameter line. Making the meter of a line catalectic can change the feeling of the poem, and is often used to achieve a certain effect as a way of changing tone or announcing a conclusion. Despite its deceptive simplicity in rhyme and meter, "Trees" is notable for its use of personification and anthropomorphic imagery : the tree of the poem, which Kilmer depicts as female, is depicted as pressing its mouth to the Earth's breast, looking at God, and raising its "leafy arms" to pray.
The tree of the poem also has human physical attributes—it has a "hungry mouth", arms, hair in which robins nest , and a bosom. Rutgers-Newark English professor and poet Rachel Hadas described the poem as being "rather slight" although it "is free of irony and self consciousness, except that little reference to fools like me at the end, which I find kind of charming". Winchell posits that if the tree described were to be a single human being it would be "an anatomically deformed one". In the second stanza, the tree is a sucking babe drawing nourishment from Mother Earth; in the third it is a supplicant reaching its leafy arms to the sky in prayer In the fourth stanza, the tree is a girl with jewels a nest of robins in her hair; and in the fifth, it is a chaste woman living alone with nature and with God.
There is no warrant in the poem to say that it is different trees that remind the poet of these different types of people. However, Winchell observes that this "series of fanciful analogies Eliot , Ezra Pound , H. Vincent Millay. Doran Company. Joyce Kilmer's reputation as a poet is staked largely on the widespread popularity of this one poem.
Despite the enduring popular appeal of "Trees", most of Joyce Kilmer's works are largely unknown and have fallen into obscurity. A select few of his poems, including "Trees", are published frequently in anthologies. With "Trees", Kilmer was said to have "rediscovered simplicity",  and the simplicity of its message and delivery is a source of its appeal. In , English professor Barbara Garlitz recounted that her undergraduate students considered the poem as "one of the finest poems ever written, or at least a very good one"—even after its technical flaws were discussed—because of its simple message and that it "paints such lovely pictures".
It comforted troops in the trenches of World War I. It was set to music and set in stone, declaimed in opera houses and vaudeville theaters, intoned at ceremonies each April on Arbor Day. Holliday added that this "exquisite title poem now so universally known made his reputation more than all the rest he had written put together" and was "made for immediate widespread popularity".
Several critics—including both Kilmer's contemporaries and modern scholars—have disparaged Kilmer's work as being too religious, simple, and overly sentimental and suggested that his style was far too traditional, even archaic. Kilmer is considered among the last of the Romantic era poets because his verse is conservative and traditional in style and does not break any of the formal rules of poetics—a style often criticized today for being too sentimental to be taken seriously.
In the years after Kilmer's death, poetry went in drastically different directions, as is seen in the work of T. Eliot and Ezra Pound , and academic criticism grew with it to eschew the more sentimental and straightforward verse. New Criticism proponents analyzed poetry on its aesthetic formulae and excluded reader's response, the author's intention, historical and cultural contexts, and moralistic bias from their analysis.
It praises God and appeals to a religious sentiment.
Ode: Intimations of Immortality
Therefore, people who do not stop to look at the poem itself or to study the images in the poem and think about what the poem really says, are inclined to accept the poem because of the pious sentiment, the prettified little pictures which in themselves appeal to stock responses , and the mechanical rhythm. Literary critic Mark Royden Winchell believed that Brooks and Warren's criticism of Kilmer's poem was chiefly to demonstrate that "it is sometimes possible to learn as much about poetry from bad poems as from good ones". Due to the enduring popular appeal of "Trees", several local communities and organizations across the United States have staked their claim to the genesis of the poem.
While the accounts of family members and of documents firmly establish Mahwah being the place where Kilmer wrote the poem, several towns throughout the country have claimed that Kilmer wrote "Trees" while staying there or that a specific tree in their town inspired Kilmer's writing. Local tradition in Swanzey, New Hampshire asserts without proof that Kilmer wrote the poem while summering in the town.
Because it had been weakened by age and disease, the Kilmer Oak was removed in , and in reporting by The New York Times and other newspapers the local tradition was repeated with the claim that "Rutgers said it could not prove that Kilmer had been inspired by the oak. The remains of the original Kilmer Oak are presently kept in storage at Rutgers University.
You end up contradicting what you profess to believe in, and you set a bum example. If you want to change the world , change yourself. There are three lessons I would write, — Three words — as with a burning pen, In tracings of eternal light Upon the hearts of men. Have Hope. Though clouds environ now, And gladness hides her face in scorn, Put thou the shadow from thy brow, — No night but hath its morn.
Have Faith. Where'er thy bark is driven, — The calm's disport, the tempest's mirth, — Know this: God rules the hosts of heaven, The habitants of earth. Have Love. Not love alone for one, But men, as man, thy brothers call; And scatter, like the circling sun, Thy charities on all. Thus grave these lessons on thy soul, — Hope, Faith, and Love, — and thou shalt find Strength when life's surges rudest roll, Light when thou else wert blind. Before our lives divide for ever, While time is with us and hands are free , Time, swift to fasten and swift to sever Hand from hand, as we stand by the sea I will say no word that a man might say Whose whole life's love goes down in a day; For this could never have been; and never, Though the gods and the years relent, shall be.
Is it worth a tear, is it worth an hour, To think of things that are well outworn? Of fruitless husk and fugitive flower, The dream foregone and the deed forborne? Though joy be done with and grief be vain, Time shall not sever us wholly in twain; Earth is not spoilt for a single shower; But the rain has ruined the ungrown corn. I had grown pure as the dawn and the dew, You had grown strong as the sun or the sea.
But none shall triumph a whole life through: For death is one, and the fates are three. At the door of life, by the gate of breath, There are worse things waiting for men than death; Death could not sever my soul and you, As these have severed your soul from me. You have chosen and clung to the chance they sent you, Life sweet as perfume and pure as prayer.
But will it not one day in heaven repent you? Will they solace you wholly, the days that were? Will you lift up your eyes between sadness and bliss, Meet mine, and see where the great love is, And tremble and turn and be changed? Content you; The gate is strait; I shall not be there. The pulse of war and passion of wonder, The heavens that murmur, the sounds that shine, The stars that sing and the loves that thunder, The music burning at heart like wine, An armed archangel whose hands raise up All senses mixed in the spirit's cup Till flesh and spirit are molten in sunder — These things are over, and no more mine.
These were a part of the playing I heard Once, ere my love and my heart were at strife; Love that sings and hath wings as a bird, Balm of the wound and heft of the knife. Fairer than earth is the sea, and sleep Than overwatching of eyes that weep, Now time has done with his one sweet word, The wine and leaven of lovely life. Sweet is true love though given in vain , in vain; And sweet is death who puts an end to pain: I know not which is sweeter, no, not I. Love, art thou sweet? O Love, if death be sweeter, let me die.
Here her hand Grasped, made her vail her eyes: she looked and saw The novice, weeping, suppliant, and said to her, "Yea, little maid, for am I not forgiven? O shut me round with narrowing nunnery-walls, Meek maidens, from the voices crying 'shame. It lays out a poetic project and manifesto for the young poet. Although these thoughts began with the verse epistles, this poem is his most earnest attempt yet to find a purpose for literature within modern life, and he boldly asserts that a new poetry has begun, a modern humanism with roots in nature and myth. At about this time Keats was determined to give up medicine and devote himself to poetry.
Charles Brown remembers Keats becoming disillusioned with his career as a surgeon and becoming fearful that he might not be a good enough surgeon to avoid inflicting needless suffering. The truth was undoubtedly a complex mixture of these, but certainly the excitement of these months, and the promise of a published volume, gave him confidence and determination.
The two poets walked together across the Heath frequently that winter, and at least once Shelley cautioned Keats to wait for publication until he had a more mature body of work from which to compile a volume. It was perhaps good advice, but Keats never warmed to Shelley as Shelley did to him, and he seems to have been annoyed at Hunt for moving to Marlow for an extended visit with Shelley that spring.
The volume was no success, and few copies were sold. After dinner Hunt wove a laurel crown for Keats; Keats wove an ivy one for Hunt; and Hunt then suggested a fifteen-minute sonnet-writing contest to commemorate this event. He determined to begin a large poem, on the great theme that he so cannily saw had produced his most serious thought, the striving of man to be one with his ideals, his gods.
He resolved to get away, to return to the seaside. Before he left on 14 April for the Isle of Wight, he and his brothers moved to Hampstead, to a home in Well Walk, hoping the country air might be good for young Tom, who was becoming ill. He also arranged for John Taylor, of Taylor and Hessey, to become his new publisher, and this association was, both emotionally and financially, to be a source of real support for years to come.
On the Isle of Wight he sat alone for some weeks, writing to Haydon of his new passion for Shakespeare, whom Haydon had read to him with inspiring gusto, whose works he had brought along, and whose portrait he hung up over his desk he took this portrait with him everywhere all his life. His goal was to write a four-thousand-line poem, Endymion , by autumn. It was an unrealistic, though bold, project, and he sat for weeks anxious and depressed, though moved by the beauty and power of the sea.
He fled the Isle of Wight for Margate, where he had been so productive the previous summer. By June he was back at Well Walk, Hampstead, spending many days with the quiet, shy, by no means intellectual painter Joseph Severn, who would be with Keats to his last moments in Rome; and also with Reynolds, with whom he read Shakespeare. By August his first extended narrative poem was half finished, a total of two thousand lines.
He worked on the poem throughout the late summer and fall of , writing on a strict plan of at least forty lines a day, a remarkable project for a beginning poet that ultimately, of course, did not produce consistently good poetry.
But as an exercise it was both stimulating and courageous, and he emerged a mature, thoughtful, self-critical poet for this effort. During these months, his friendship with Benjamin Bailey deepened, and he saw little of Hunt. He returned from Oxford in October with a new seriousness of thought and purpose; he was weary of Endymion , and though he plodded along with it, he was already planning another long poem. In late November he left London for the pleasant suburb of Burford Bridge, and there he completed Endymion.
From the SparkNotes Blog
After a series of adventures, he abandons his restless quest, which by book 4 has come to seem illusory, in favor of an earthly Indian maid, who is eventually revealed to have been Cynthia all along. Although the actual narrative will hardly bear much scrutiny, the themes evoked here would haunt Keats all his life. The poetry of Endymion varies widely from some thoughtful speeches and lovely description to some of the most awful and self-indulgent verse ever written by a mature major English poet.
The story is tedious and the point often obscure. The critical reaction to Endymion was infamous for its ferocity. Keats goes out of himself into a world of abstraction:—his passions, feelings, are all as much imaginative as his situations…when he writes of passion, it seems to have possessed him. This, however, is what Shakespeare did. He showed no signs of tuberculosis for another year, his constitution was by no means frail he was stocky and athletic , and he was not overly sensitive to criticism. His association with Bailey in the fall of , and his reading of Hazlitt, contributed to a new seriousness in his thinking about art; on 22 November he wrote to Bailey the first of his famous letters to his friends and brothers on aesthetics, the social role of poetry, and his own sense of poetic mission.
Rarely has a poet left such a remarkable record of his thoughts on his own career and its relation to the history of poetry. The struggle of the poet to create beauty had become itself paradigmatic of spiritual and imaginative quest to perceive the transcendent or the enduring in a world of suffering and death. Both the conscious soul and the world are transformed by a dynamic openness to each other.
Does the artist not demand more answers from real life than the disinterestedness of Negative Capability can offer? And, most urgent, is not aesthetic distillation really a kind of a falsification, a dangerous and blind succumbing to enchantment? Certainly without the transforming power of art, at least, growing self-consciousness implies knowledge of loss and death; perhaps even art does no more than deflect our attention.
Keats was not overly hurt, however, since he saw Wordsworth several times more in London, dining with his family on 5 January For the time being, he was perplexed, and his poetry proceeded slowly.
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He continued to prepare Endymion for the press. The winter months were full of social activity, with visits to Haydon, dinner at the Hunts with the Shelleys and Peacock, and evenings at the theater. In early March, however, his brother George arrived in London to see Abbey, leaving Tom ill and unattended. Keats departed at once to stay with him in Teignmouth, Devonshire, where he remained until May. With Tom feverish and coughing, with the news that George had decided to immigrate to America, with his sense of being obliged to be far from the stimulation of London but fearful of losing both his brothers, these were sad months.
Romance also implies a quest for closure, for a realized or at least clearly envisioned dream, and Keats questioned whether modern poetry can embody such belief. The romance he wrote in March , Isabella , based on a tale of Boccaccio, is an uneven poem, and though some of his contemporaries including Lamb admired it, Keats came to dislike it. It is best thought of as an experiment in tone, teetering uneasily between poignant, romantic tragedy and a dry, uneasy, narrational pose.
This poem is a first attempt—and an interesting one—at that extraordinary poise he would achieve between romance and disillusionment almost a year later in The Eve of St. The story from Boccaccio is simple, and Keats made few changes: Isabella, living with her two merchant brothers, loves Lorenzo, a clerk. The brothers, vile and materialistic, murder Lorenzo and bury him in the forest. Keats, of course, knew the Wordsworth of the reactionary Excursion , published in , but not of The Prelude , first published in Keats saw the working through of this challenge as his place in history as well.
He seems to have discovered that the way to Negative Capability was an arduous one, a descent into pain rather than ascent into romance. On these matters he would meditate the better part of the summer, and though he wrote little throughout these months, these would now be his dominant concerns. One can see them in his great poem Hyperion , begun in October.
Keats hoped this would be the first of a series of travels in England and abroad to prepare him to write. The trip through the Lake country was invigorating; Keats and Brown energetically hiked in the mountains around Rydal and Ambleside. This illness was not connected to his later tuberculosis, but for the next year he would have occasional recurrences of the sore throat.
Though he was always aware of the consumption that seemed to curse his family, and his bouts with illness this year were often depressing, there is no reason to believe he thought at this time that these sore throats were dangerous or that his poetic career would be cut short. In early August, leaving Brown in Scotland, Keats returned home to Hampstead to find his brother Tom seriously ill with tuberculosis.
In June, George, now married, had immigrated to America to try his luck as a farmer after several inevitable disasters he did prosper, in the s, as a miller in Louisville, Kentucky ; Keats was now alone with Tom, almost constantly, until his death on 1 December. But throughout the autumn of he began composing his most brilliant work yet, a poem even his critics saw as a major achievement, Hyperion. This is the stuff of Hyperion , and its interest is its fresh engagement with these issues, as they cluster around a traditional Western icon: the fall into suffering of the mighty or good and the hope for compensatory redemption.
Hyperion tells the story of the fall of the Titans and their replacement by the Gods, more beautiful than the Titans by virtue of their superior knowledge, and, so, by implication, their insight into the suffering of humanity. The epic begins not with the battle between Titans and Gods but with its aftermath. Like so many romantic epics, however, this one begins with an extraordinary sense of stasis, of emotional confusion, pain, and paralysis from which there is no apparent exit.
The speeches of the fallen Titans are useless. Hyperion tries in vain to force the sun to rise but falls back in impotent grief. The fall into self-consciousness would itself be redemptive if it formed the soul of a poet, whose creation of beauty is the more intense for his having felt and transcended tragic pain and the loss of faith.
Yet the poem proved too problematic, and for many reasons by April Keats had given it up. What would be the dramatic focus of the poem? What good, really, to speak of either inevitable human progress or the birth of a poet in the face of such pain? This indeed would be the subject of Hyperion when Keats attempted to revise it in summer as The Fall of Hyperion.
Keats had spent the autumn almost constantly with Tom and saw few of his friends. It was a double house Brown had built with his friend Charles Dilke, who lived with his wife in one half. In the previous summer while he was away, Brown rented his side of the house to a widow, Mrs. Frances Brawne, and her three children, the oldest of whom, Fanny, was just eighteen. They later continued to visit the Dilkes at Wentworth. Here, probably in November, Keats met Fanny. Unfortunately, some key aspects of that relationship are, and will likely remain, obscure.
It seems that on 25 December they declared their love; they were engaged though without much public announcement in October But Keats felt he could not marry until he had established himself as a poet—or proved to himself he could not. What Fanny felt is hard to know. Keats burned all but her last letters, which were buried with him.
She later married and lived most of her life abroad; her written remarks about Keats reveal little about her feelings. But it would be wrong to judge Keats or Fanny by the letters of , written by a Keats at times desperate and confused, feverish and seriously ill. Almost certainly, as would have been conventional in their day for a couple so uncertain of their future, their relationship was not sexual.
But it was passionate and mutual, certainly becoming the central experience of intense feeling in both their lives. Keats explores these antinomies of human desire in one of his finest and best-loved long poems, The Eve of St. Agnes , a romance in Spenserian stanzas written in January The story recalls Romeo and Juliet , though its details are based on several traditional French romances see Robert Gittings, John Keats , It is framed by the coldness of eternity, by an ancient Beadsman whose frosty prayers and stony piety contrast with the fairytale-like revelry and warm lights within.
The heroine, Madeline, does not mix with the company but ascends to her own kind of dream, the superstitious wish that, by following various rites on this St. He does so, after watching her undress and sleep, spreading before her a feast of delicacies rather magically , and easing her into a wakefulness instinct with romance. The lovers flee into the cold storm; and suddenly the poem shifts to a long historical vision, the tale acknowledged as a story far away and long ago, the Beadsman himself cold and dead.
Today we see the poem more as a great achievement not only in style but also in thoughtful and carefully balanced tone. But most critics today see the poem as an extraordinary balance of these opposing forces, shrewdly and at times playfully self-aware of its own conventions, leading the reader to a continuous series of mediations between artifice and reality, dream and awakening. The more we imagine beauty the more painful our world may seem—and this, in turn, deepens our need for art.
The great odes of the spring and fall— Ode to Psyche , Ode to a Nightingale , Ode on a Grecian Urn , Ode on Melancholy , To Autumn written in September , Ode on Indolence not published until , and often excluded from the group as inferior —do not attempt to answer these questions. The order of the odes has been much debated; it is known that Ode to Psyche was written in late April, Ode to a Nightingale probably in May, and To Autumn on 19 September , but although Ode on a Grecian Urn and Ode on Melancholy are assumed to belong to May, but no one can be certain of any order or progression.
But, perhaps, a new kind of humanist paganism was possible to a modern world of self-consciousness and secular knowledge, emptied of Christian orthodoxy. Thus the poem turns from its questioned but spontaneous vision to a hope for a return of Psyche in a prepared consciousness. But despite the sense of achieved conclusion, Ode to Psyche begins with a question and ends with a hope. The unself-conscious and delightful initial vision can only be expectantly invoked. Instead what follows is a troubled meditation, one of the richest and most compressed in English poetry, on the power of human imagination to meet joy in the world and transform the soul.
But imagination needs temporality to do its work. It then tantalizes us with a desire to experience the eternity of the beauty we create. But again, no real experience is possible to us—as the central stanzas suggest—apart from time and change. Imagination seems to falsify: the more the poet presses the bird to contain, the more questionable this imaginative projection becomes. For Keats, an impatience for truth only obscures it.