Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Vigils by Aline Kilmer

I'm participating in Kailana and Lu's "Poetry: Read More, Blog More" event and misread the date and so posted my poetry entry yesterday.  So, here's another poetry entry just for kicks.  If you're visiting this site because of the event--welcome!  And, be sure to check out yesterday's post, too.

So, you've all heard of that poem that goes "I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree. . ." before right?  It was written by Joyce Kilmer--who was a man, in case you were wondering.  Well, I have to say, I think his wife, Aline Kilmer, was the better poet.  A little background, first.

Joyce and Aline had five children.  Their youngest daughter, Rose, was stricken with polio which led to the family's conversion to Catholicism.  Now, if you have four children (one of whom is paralyzed) and your wife is about to give birth to your fifth child--what do you do?  If you're Joyce Kilmer you enlist in the military to go fight in World War I in order to gain fodder for an upcoming book.

Well, long story short, baby Christopher was born healthy.  However, Rose died at age five, two weeks before the arrival of her brother.  Joyce goes off to war shortly thereafter and, not being satisfied with his boring job of a statistician with the U.S. 69th Infantry Regiment, he transfers to the Regimental Intelligence Section where he was killed four months before the end of the war. Aline was left alone with her four children (another of whom would die in childhood).  What kind of glory hound does that to his wife?

And so, we have Aline's poetry collection, Vigils, published in 1921. It is so beautiful and moving.  Here are two poems that especially stood out:


Sometimes when I am at with tea with you
I catch my breath
At a thought that is old as the world is old
And more bitter than death

It is that the spoon you just laid down
And the cup that you hold
May be here shining and insolent
When you are still and cold.

Your careless note that I laid away
May leap to my eyes like flame
When the world has almost forgotten your voice
Or the sound of your name.

The golden Virgin da Vinci drew
May smile on over my head
And daffodils nod in the silver vase
When you are dead.

So let the moth and dust corrupt and thieves
Break through and I shall be glad,
Because of the hatred I bear to things
Instead of the love I had.

For life seems only a shuddering breath,
A smothered, desperate cry,
And things have a terrible permanence
When people die.
Isn't that so true? Once your loved one is gone, their things do take on such a "terrible permanence."  The next poem is equally chilling, especially considering Michael would die in 1927 at age eleven.

Deborah and Christopher brought me dandelions,
Kenton brought me buttercups with summer on
their breath,
But Michael brought an autumn leaf, like lacy 
A wan leaf, a ghost leaf, beautiful as death.

Death in all loveliness, fragile and exquisite,
Who but he would choose it from all the
blossoming land?
Who but he would find it where it hid among the
Death in all loveliness, he laid it in my hand.

This beautiful little book was another of the gems tucked away in the 800s of my library.  I've said it before, I'll say it again--go check out an old book from the stacks at your local library and give it a circulation statistic.  There's some amazing stuff hidden back in the mustiest aisles.

<I checked this book out of my library.>


  1. Powerful. I must find her work for myself.

    Thank you so much for sharing these gems with us.

    1. I know! They really affected me. I think I'm going to try to find a second-hand copy to keep on my shelf at home. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  2. Probably like many who read this, I didn't know that Joyce Kilmer had a wife who wrote poetry. What a fascinating little historical gem: thanks for sharing.

    1. I was surprised, too! I only discovered it because their books were shelved side-by-side in the library. Amazing the things you find.

  3. Another one who had no knowledge, thanks for the info & in return


    In the night Death came to me
    I said:
    "Not yet"
    He asked
    "Why not yet?"
    I had no answer

    He shook his head
    and went back slowly
    into the shadows
    Why not yet?
    My love
    do you not have an answer?
    Erich Fried.

    1. Thank you! I ike this little poem. You've inspired me to check out Fried's "Children and Fools" from my library.

  4. Wow. This blew me away. Great poems. I look forward to more poetry recommendations by you. I'm definitely checking this out (or putting a hold on it).

    1. I still have a few poems I haven't read yet, so it'll be back soon. I feel bad that she was overshadowed by her one-hit-wonder husband.

      I need to figure out a way to market these books--let me know if you have any ideas. I guess I could do a display, but they don't have exciting covers, so I don't think people will pick them up. So much good stuff, though.

  5. That's lovely. I said the same thing this fall when my father died--it seems so strange that I can wear the pearls he brought back from Japan at the end of WWII when he is dead and buried.

  6. She really puts her finger on that strangeness, doesn't she? I'm sorry to hear about your father.

  7. Wow - chilling, indeed. I found I was holding my breath throughout "Things". Thanks for the background - it really makes the poetry come to life!

  8. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I was excited to discover this poet, too.

  9. *buttercups with summer on
    their breath*


    1. Aren't the images great in this poem? I still don't understand why her husband seems to live on while she is more or less lost to history. Her poems are gorgeous.

  10. Thanks for sharing about Aline's background which gave birth to her beautiful poetry. I have put Vigils on my wish list - looks like one that I will want to own.

    1. Thanks for stopping by my blog. Didn't her story just blow you away? I was shocked by all she went through. And her poems. . .so great. I hope you are able to find a good copy of the book.

  11. Thank you for these, they are strong and beautiful. I hope my library has this book!

    1. I am glad you enjoyed them! I'll keep my fingers crossed that your library has a copy.

  12. Thank you for sharing these lovely poems. I couldn't find anything by Aline Kilmer in my library's catalogue but I'm inspired to go check out some long-unborrowed book (and I guess poetry tends to have far fewer loans) the next time I'm at the library!

  13. I had never heard of her and only found her by chance. I'm glad you enjoyed them. Happy hunting in the poetry section next time your at the library. I hope you find some good ones! :)

  14. I so loved what poetry of hers you shared, that I found a used copy on line. It just arrived today and I'm looking forward to sitting down with it this weekend. Thank you so much.

  15. I am so glad! That makes my day!! Thank you for telling me.