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The Other Kilmer

I have just finished editing Vigils, a book of 30 poems by Aline Kilmer. This is one of three new books I picked up over the holidays at Haslem's in St. Petersburg.

Aline Murray Kilmer (1888 – 1941) was an American poet , and the wife of another American poet, [Alfred] Joyce Kilmer. You may be familiar with Joyce because of the wide circulation of his poem, Trees, (“I think that I shall never see / A poem lovely as a tree.”) – A simplistic piece that is in the love it or hate it category. Joyce wrote several books of poems and essays and did some editing as well. He died in World War I, killed by a sniper's bullet in the Second Battle of Marne, 1918.

Aline Kilmer published four volumes of verse, along with essays and some childrens’ books. Her writing style varies, sometimes as succinct as Teasdale, sometimes as wistful as Aiken, sometimes playful, sometimes grim.


Vigils was published in 1921, following the publication of her earlier poems in Candles that Burn in 1919. We can assume most of its content was written after Joyce’s death, which can be seen in the mood of many poems. The first piece, Things, is very much like Aiken’s Bread and Music:


SOMETIMES when I am at 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 that 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 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.

And there is a desperate fatalism is apparent in The Night Cometh:

The Night Cometh

MY GARDEN walks were smooth and green
And edged with box trees left and right,
An old grey sun-dial stood between
Two rounded bee hives, low and white.
My hollyhocks grew tall and red,
My larkspur thrust its lances high:
"The Night Cometh," the sun-dial said,
And I hated its wisdom and hurried by.

I watch the sun-dial as I wait
And hope to see its slow hand fly.
The stately poplars at the gate
Are funeral torches flaring high.
The scent of wallflowers breaks my heart,
The box is bitter in the sun,
The poppies burst their sheathes apart
And tell of rest when pain is done.

The hawthorn shakes a ghostly head
And breathes of death at fullest noon.
"The Night Cometh," the sun-dial said--
The night can never come too soon.
O sun-dial, hurry your creeping hand,
Let the shadows fall where the brown bees hum,
1 watch and wait where the low hives stand,
Let the night come, let the night come!

On the other hand, some of the pieces suggest enduring through loss or pain, or accepting sad truths and moving on. These include Daimon, and The Gift:

The Gift

HE HAS taken away the things that I loved best
Love and youth and the harp that knew my hand.
Laughter alone is left of all the rest.
Does He mean that I may fill my days with laughter,
Or will it, too, slip through my fingers like spilt sand?

Why should I beat my wings like a bird in a net,
When I can be still and laugh at my own desire?
The wise may shake their heads at me, but yet
I should be sad without my little laughter.
The crackling of thorns is not so bad a fire.

Will He take away even the thorns from under the pot,
And send rne cold and supperless to bed?
He has been good to me. I know he will not.
He gave me to keep a little foolish laughter.
I shall not lose it even when I am dead.

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