By Joyce Kilmer
With shameless and incessant lust
Thy tremulous hot hands are thrust
Upon my body's loveliness.
O loathsome Age, thy foul caress
Puts on my heart a deadly blight,
Withers my hair to leprous white,
Binds fetters on my eager feet
That once on Springtime's road were fleet
To bear me to Love's shining goal.
Now bitter tides of sorrow roll
To drown me in a sea of woe
And God looks on, and wills it so!
Give over thy pursuing, Age!
Fearest thou not my lover's rage?
For he is young and strong of limb,
Thou canst not stand a bout with him.
Ah, surely he will laugh to see
So wan a suitor wooing me.
Then with wild scorn his heart will swell
And he will fling thee back to hell.
O Love, that stronger art than Death,
Enfold me from the burning breath
Of Age that has grown amorous,
That sears and blasts me. Even thus,
Men say, his passionate embrace
Spoils maids and flowers of their grace,
And every woman's fate is cast
To be his paramour at last.
And so all lovely things are made
Shameful, and in the ashes laid,
To die alone, uncared for. Such
Is the pollution of his touch.
Stars that have shone since Time began,
Rivers that saw the birth of man,
And mountains that are fair and green,
And were, when Helen was a queen,
White dreams that never can grow old,
Stories of love and glory told
By Homer once, and ballads sung
Eons ago--ye still are young.
Tell me the secret of your youth.
Can any weeping fill with ruth
Age, that is harsh and pitiless?
Nay, they are blind to my distress.
They have not feared the grasping hand
Of Age, and cannot understand.
Love saw my whitened hair and laughed
And bid me drain my bitter draught.
While in my lover's startled eyes
A lurking terror strangely lies.
There is no place in which to hide
When Age comes seeking for his bride.
Joyce Kilmer was a prolific poet in the earliest years of the 20th century. He was born in 1886 and died young, age 31, killed in the second Battle of the Marne during World War I in 1918.
Interesting, don't you think, that Kilmer wrote this poem when he was about 26.
TGB readers may recognize Kilmer's name. I recall that when I was a kid in the late 1940s and 1950s, he was well-known as the writer of Trees, a poem that was as much disparaged for being simplistic and sentimental as it was praised. You probably remember how it goes...
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;
That's all I can stand. I fall into the contemptuous camp so if you're really interested, you will have to find the rest of it online for yourself.
However, on the other side of the critique equation, the poem was popular enough during the mid-20th century that it was set to music and recorded by several artists. Here is Robert Merrill singing Trees on a vintage television program:
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: Retirement – The Greatest