Joyce Kilmer wrote an insipid little poem about trees: “I think that I shall never see/A poem as lovely as a tree…”

Mrs. Wilson, my 6th grade teacher, required our entire class to memorize and recite Joyce Kilmer’s poem. The plan was that we would learn the poem by reciting it as a class for several weeks, and then each student would take her turn reciting it in front of the class for a grade. In all, not a bad teaching idea.

I strenuously objected to the requirement that I must repeat the last couplet verbatim. It ran “Poems are made by fools like me/But only God can make a tree.” You see, I wasn’t the type of fool who wrote poetry. Thus, when Mrs. Wilson would lead the class in reciting the poem, I would go along correctly until I reached the last couplet. At that point, I’d say, “Poems are made by fools like Joyce Kilmer,…” and I shouted that name “Joyce Kilmer” in my loudest 6th grade voice, just so that it was clear that I was no poetry-writirg fool.

Each time I did this, Mrs. Wilson glared at me, and she warned me that if I recited the poem that way in front of the class, I would get in a lot of trouble and she would give me a failing grade on my recital.

Eventually, the day arrived when it was my turn to recite the poem to the class. I stood there at the front of the room, next to Mrs. Wilson’s desk, and I recited the entire poem until I reached the last couplet. At that point, without hesitating, I turned to look straight into Mrs. Wilson’s eyes, and I said, “Poems are made by fools like Joyce Kilmer” And before I could finish, she stood up, grabbed me by the elbow, and dragged me down to the office.

It is my hope that God doesn’t play the part of Mrs. Wilson on Judgement Day. But if He does, I’ll face down God the same way I faced down Mrs. Wilson.