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Sgt. Joyce Kilmer Triangle

Joyce Kilmer Triangle

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This triangle, bounded by Quentin Road, Kings Highway, and East 12th Street, serves as a memorial to Sergeant Alfred Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918), a brilliant young patriot, poet, and soldier who wove himself into the hearts of his countrymen.

Born on December 6, 1886, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and educated at Rutgers Preparatory School, Kilmer attended both Rutgers University and Columbia University before earning his degree from Columbia in 1908. On June 11, 1908, Kilmer married another poet, Aline, and the couple had four children. After teaching Latin for a year at Morristown High School in New Jersey, Kilmer began his career in 1909 as a dictionary editor with Funk & Wagnall's Company and served as the Literary Editor of The Churchman, an Anglican newspaper, in 1912, contributing freelance articles and poems to a number of other publications as well. Soon after joining the staff of The New York Times in 1913, Kilmer converted to Catholicism.

In 1917, when the United States declared war on Germany, Kilmer enlisted as a private in the 7th Regiment of the New York National Guard, even though his role as breadwinner for his children and wife would have allowed him to remain at home. With the help of Father Francis Duffy (1871-1932), he transferred to the 165th Infantry, the "Fighting Irish." In France, Kilmer quickly rose in the ranks to sergeant and was attached to the Regimental Intelligence staff as an observer, spending many nights on patrol gathering information in the narrow strip of land that separated the opposing force's trenches, known as No Man's Land. While stationed there, he also wrote for Stars and Stripes, the Army weekly paper.

On July 30, 1918, during the battle of Ourcq, Kilmer attached himself as an adjutant to Major William Donovan, who commanded the First Battalion, replacing the previous adjutant, who had been killed the day before. Kilmer was mortally wounded by a sniper's bullet on July 30 during the second Battle of the Marne. Only thirty-one years old, Kilmer died that day in the village of Seringen. Buried in the Military Cemetery at Fere-en-Tardenois in France, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre by France.

At the time he entered the war, Joyce Kilmer was considered America's premier living Catholic poet. His 1913 poem "Trees", which millions of children learned by heart, was so loved that his mother put it into a song cherished by the entire country:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
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.

This square was acquired after the widening of the abutting streets. The title was vested in the City of New York in 1920. It became parkland in 1934, and the Board of Alderman named it in honor of Kilmer in 1935. A yardarm flagpole flies on the East 12th Street side of the park, which is lined with benches shaded by towering oak trees, the sort Kilmer himself would have treasured. Flowers and shrubs planted at the other end of the park make this a peaceful oasis and a fitting tribute to a distinguished poet who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

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