“Trees” by Joyce Kilmer

Photo of tree with Joyce Kilmer quote about trees

But Robots Are So Cool

My daughter is fascinated by robots. Let’s face it — most people are. There’s something eerily satisfying about building mechanical life.

A couple of years ago, my mom bought a little robot kit that was on sale. “Kit” may be an exaggeration: it was just a couple of modules that snapped together (after the installation of way too many watch batteries) in a couple of different ways. It was controlled with a simple remote with one stick for the right wheel and one stick for the left.

But it was so cool. It was a robot. My daughter loved it. Never mind the fact that all it could do was bump into things around the living room. And drain watch batteries like nobody’s business.

I get that. When I was young, I checked out a book from the school library (more than once) that was all about modern robots — well, modern for whenever that book was published — and how they could do sophisticated things like bring you a can of soda (after you had, of course, put the can in the robot’s hand — and maybe you had to use a remote to guide it to your easy chair). But they were robots!

Technology has come a long way since then, of course. First there was the stair climbing. Now some robots can dance pretty convincingly.

But they ain’t John Travolta. And even if robots do get to that point, inside they’ll be nothing more than wiring and servos, like Alsatia from the 1992 movie Toys.

It’s this kind of realization that might make you think of the poem “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer.

“Trees” by Joyce Kilmer

From Joyce Kilmer, Volume 1: Memoir and Poems, 1918

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s 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.

The Lingo

There isn’t a whole lot of old-school language in this poem, but Kilmer does say a few things you’re unlikely to hear in everyday speech. But never fear: you can learn these words and phrases, and your confidence will spill over to the person you perform this poem to.

  • shall = pretty much means “will”
  • prest = probably how “pressed” should be spelled, right?
  • bosom = chest (okay, trees don’t have chests, but just go with it)
  • lain = most people say “laid” instead of “lain” these days, but “lain” would often be correct

Performance Tips

As you perform this poem, try these tips to make it come alive for your audience.

  • A poem lovely as a tree.
    • Gesture upward, as if you’re looking up at a tree
  • A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
    • Spider out your fingers like roots
  • And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
    • Lift your arms up
  • A nest of robins in her hair;
    • Cup your hands above your head like a nest
  • Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
    • Gesture to yourself like you’re wearing something elegant
  • But only God can make a tree.
    • Hold up a finger like you’re making a point

Memorize It

Use this recording to help you memorize “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer. You can do it! Just play it on repeat until you’ve got it. Don’t forget to come back to it in a few days to refresh.

“Trees” by Joyce Kilmer

Go Forth and Perform

So next time you’re with someone in the vicinity of a tree, or maybe a robot (even a dancing one), take the opportunity to perform Joyce Kilmer’s lovely little meditation “Trees.”