December 1, 2018

Poetry to Help Your Public Speaking: Joyce Kilmer

Poems to Read Aloud , The Buckley Experience , Resources , Public Speaking

The Buckley School's founder believed that all public speakers should hone their presentation skills by reading poetry out loud. We keep that worthwhile practice alive by including a poem in our magazine each month for you to read aloud.


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

– Opening lines of Joyce Kilmer’s "Trees"

Most of us know Joyce Kilmer for one reason only: He is the poet who gave us "Trees," the oft-recited, much parodied rhyming verse.

But Kilmer, born on December 6, 1886, did much in his short life. He graduated from Columbia University with a degree in journalism. He taught Latin at a high school and wrote feature for publications including Town & Country and The New York Times. For several years, he worked for Funk and Wagnalls, writing dictionary definitions to make a living while he continued to build his writing career.

His first poetry collection was published in 1911. Two years later, "Trees" appeared in Poetry magazine, then was part of his second collection Trees and Other Poems, published in 1914.

"I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree. Perhaps, unless the billboards fall, I'll never see a tree at all."

– Ogden Nash providing one of many parodies

His final book of poems was published three years later, in 1917, the same year he joined the U.S. Army to fight in World War I. He continued writing poems while fighting with the Army’s 69th regiment. Kilmer was hit by a German sniper and died on July 30, 1918. He was 31 years old.

Kilmer from his college yearbook (left) and after he'd enlisted with the Army (right)

For our December read aloud, here’s Kilmer’s poem "Wartime Christmas."

Wartime Christmas


Led by a star, a golden star,

The youngest star, an olden star,

Here the kings and the shepherds are,

Akneeling on the ground.

What did they come to the inn to see?

God in the Highest, and this is He,

A baby asleep on His mother’s knee

And with her kisses crowned.


Now is the earth a dreary place,

A troubled place, a weary place.

Peace has hidden her lovely face

And turned in tears away.

Yet the sun, through the war-cloud, sees

Babies asleep on their mother’s knees.

While there are love and home—and these—

There shall be Christmas Day.

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