THE CANOPY AND THE COSMOS: What Kilmer Knew, What Sagan Never Dreamed

Today, December 6, is the birthday of Joyce Kilmer.

Alfred Joyce Kilmer (December 6, 1886 – July 30, 1918) was an American journalist, poet, literary critic, and editor.  He was considered the leading Catholic poet and lecturer of his generation, and was compared to G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc.  He died too young, at age 31, leaving his fans to wonder what else he might have accomplished had he lived.  A sergeant in the 165th U.S. Infantry Regiment during World War I, Kilmer was killed at the Second Battle of the Marne in 1918.

In Kilmer’s honor, I repost a favorite article about trees!

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SO AWAY WE DROVE, armored with a GPS and comfy shoes, on the Great American Road Trip.  We set off, sans itinerary, to visit relatives in Ohio, our son in South Carolina, and then….???

These past ten years, I have been a frequent flyer—jetting here and there, facing jet lag but not road fatigue, frequenting airport terminals instead of gas stations. This time, though, we would be roaming along the highway, getting up close and personal with forests and fields, traffic circles and freeway overpasses.

“Oh, good!” I thought.  “I’ll have plenty of time for blogging, and for completing a few editing projects for the office.”

But that was before I fell in love once again with the land—with meandering streams and farmers’ fields gone fallow, with mountain vistas and fog-shrouded meadows.  As one mile stretched into another, I gazed at the reflection of God in the verdant forests of pocosins and loblolly pines.  I imagined His handprint in the brick-red South Carolina mud, and in the sprawling wisteria, fragrant blooms drooping from boughs of sweetbay and willow oak.  The beauty, the mind-numbing variety, the creativity….  well, I couldn’t stop looking.

“Billions and billions of stars!” exclaimed astrophysicist and cosmologist Carl Sagan on black-and-white TV in the 1960s.  An avowed atheist, Sagan—if I may mix metaphors here—couldn’t see the forest for the trees.  He saw the beauty and the enormity of the universe, yet he never looked for the One who brought the cosmos into being.

Here on terra firma, I see the trees—billions and billions of trees—and I find irrefutable evidence for a benevolent Designer.  The showy crapemyrtle, the leathery leaves of the magnolia—well, I see those graceful things, and I just KNOW.

Carl Sagan looked at the cosmos and saw a frontier awaiting exploration—but that’s all.  The poet Joyce Kilmer looked at a single tree with wonder, and extolled the praises of a great and mighty God.  You may remember his poem from back in high school; but here it is in its entirety.

by: Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)

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;
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.

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