School History

Who is Joyce Kilmer?

Biography credits: Poetry FoundationEncyclopedia BrittanicaUSDA Forest Service

image of poet Joyce Kilmer

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The namesake of Kilmer Middle School was born Alfred Joyce Kilmer, Dec. 6, 1886, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and died July 30, 1918, near Seringes, France after enlisting in the United States Army during World War I. Kilmer was an American poet, most notably known for his 12-line verse entitled Trees.

Kilmer was educated at Rutgers and Columbia Universities. After graduating, he served as a newspaper editor for The Churchman, and later, was on staff at the New York Times. He was known for poetry reflecting his appreciation of beauty in the natural world and his deep-rooted faith, with simple but sincere verses. His most famous poem, “Trees,” appeared in Poetry magazine in 1913. Its immediate and continued popularity has been attributed to its combination of sentiment and simple philosophy.

His books include Trees and Other Poems (1914); The Circus and Other Essays (1916); Main Street and Other Poems (1917); and Literature in the Making (1917), a series of interviews with writers. Trees is unique for its personification of the tree in the poem and became most popular after his death - in the 1940s and 1950s - even being put to music.

Kilmer enlisted in the New York National Guard in 1917 when the United States entered WWI, then transferred to the United States Army infantry and served as an intelligence officer, collecting information on the enemy front lines. He was killed in action during the Battle of Ourcq and was posthumously awarded the prestigious French Croix de Guerre (War Cross) for bravery.

In the 1930's, the federal government purchased 3,800 acres of old growth forest in North Carolina to stop extensive logging. The tract of forest was dedicated in 1936 to the memory and service of Kilmer. Today this forest contains over 100 species of trees, many over 400 years old and 100 feet tall, as well as a 2-mile hiking trail. His name has also been given to many streets, schools, and parks across the country.

What's in a Name?

To learn more about our namesake, watch this video produced for Fairfax County Public Schools’ cable television channel Red Apple 21.