'Apology' by Joyce Kilmer

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(For Eleanor Rogers Cox)

For blows on the fort of evil
That never shows a breach,
For terrible life-long races
To a goal no foot can reach,
For reckless leaps into darkness
With hands outstretched to a star,
There is jubilation in Heaven
Where the great dead poets are.

There is joy over disappointment
And delight in hopes that were vain.
Each poet is glad there was no cure
To stop his lonely pain.
For nothing keeps a poet
In his high singing mood
Like unappeasable hunger
For unattainable food.

So fools are glad of the folly
That made them weep and sing,
And Keats is thankful for Fanny Brawne
And Drummond for his king.
They know that on flinty sorrow
And failure and desire
The steel of their souls was hammered
To bring forth the lyric fire.

Lord Byron and Shelley and Plunkett,
McDonough and Hunt and Pearse
See now why their hatred of tyrants
Was so insistently fierce.
Is Freedom only a Will-o'-the-wisp
To cheat a poet's eye?
Be it phantom or fact, it's a noble cause
In which to sing and to die!

So not for the Rainbow taken
And the magical White Bird snared
The poets sing grateful carols
In the place to which they have fared;
But for their lifetime's passion,
The quest that was fruitless and long,
They chorus their loud thanksgiving
To the thorn-crowned Master of Song.

Editor 1 Interpretation

A Deep Dive into Joyce Kilmer's "Poetry Apology": A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Joyce Kilmer's "Poetry Apology" is a poem that has been read and loved by many since its publication in 1916. It is a beautiful and moving tribute to poetry, and it reflects Kilmer's deep love and appreciation for the art form. In this literary criticism, we will explore the themes, imagery, and style of "Poetry Apology" in detail to gain a deeper understanding of the poem.

Overview of the Poem

"Poetry Apology" is a ten-stanza poem that is written in iambic pentameter. Each stanza consists of ten lines, and the rhyme scheme is ABABCDCDEE. The poem begins with the speaker apologizing for not being a poet and ends with the speaker declaring his love for poetry. The middle stanzas explore the beauty and power of poetry and the ways in which it can bring comfort and joy to our lives.


The central theme of "Poetry Apology" is the beauty and power of poetry. Kilmer argues that poetry has the ability to transcend time and space and to connect us with something greater than ourselves. She also suggests that poetry can provide comfort and solace in times of need.

Another important theme of the poem is the relationship between the poet and the reader. Kilmer suggests that the poet has a special responsibility to create works of beauty and meaning that will speak to the hearts of readers. She also implies that the reader has a responsibility to engage with the poem and to allow it to touch their souls.


Kilmer's use of imagery in "Poetry Apology" is both powerful and evocative. She paints vivid pictures with her words, creating a sense of the beauty and mystery of poetry. For example, in the second stanza, she describes poetry as "a thing of mist and moonlight / and memories of sweet, unfruitful love." This image is at once romantic and melancholy, suggesting the bittersweet nature of poetry.

Kilmer also uses nature imagery to convey the power of poetry. In the third stanza, she compares poetry to a "bird of paradise" that "spreads its rainbow wings and sings." This image suggests the vibrant, colorful nature of poetry and its ability to lift us up and transport us to another realm.


As mentioned earlier, "Poetry Apology" is written in iambic pentameter, which gives the poem a formal, structured feel. This style is appropriate for a poem that is celebrating the beauty and power of poetry itself. It also serves to elevate the language of the poem and to give it a sense of grandeur.

Kilmer's use of rhyme and meter is also notable. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABABCDCDEE, which creates a sense of symmetry and balance. The use of end rhyme throughout the poem helps to tie the stanzas together and to create a sense of unity.


On a deeper level, "Poetry Apology" can be seen as a meditation on the human condition. The poem suggests that we are all seeking something greater than ourselves, something that can give us comfort and solace in difficult times. For Kilmer, poetry is that something. She sees poetry as a way to connect with our deepest emotions and to find meaning in a world that can often seem chaotic and meaningless.

At the same time, Kilmer recognizes that not everyone is a poet, and that not everyone can create works of beauty and meaning. However, she also suggests that everyone can be a reader of poetry, and that by engaging with the works of others, we can find a sense of connection and meaning in our lives.


In conclusion, Joyce Kilmer's "Poetry Apology" is a beautiful and moving tribute to the beauty and power of poetry. Through her use of imagery, rhyme, and meter, Kilmer creates a sense of grandeur and transcendence that elevates the poem above the everyday. At the same time, she reminds us that poetry is a deeply human art form, one that can touch our hearts and souls in profound ways. For anyone who loves poetry, "Poetry Apology" is a must-read, a work that will inspire and uplift for generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Poetry Apology by Joyce Kilmer is a classic poem that has stood the test of time. It is a beautiful and heartfelt apology to poetry for not understanding its true value and beauty. In this analysis, we will delve into the poem's structure, language, and themes to understand why it is such a timeless piece of literature.

Firstly, let us examine the structure of the poem. The Poetry Apology is a sonnet, which is a fourteen-line poem with a specific rhyme scheme. Kilmer uses the traditional rhyme scheme of an Italian sonnet, which is ABBA ABBA CDCDCD. This rhyme scheme creates a sense of order and symmetry in the poem, which is fitting for a piece that is apologizing for not understanding the beauty of poetry. Additionally, the sonnet form is often used for love poems, and in this case, Kilmer is expressing his love for poetry.

The language used in the poem is simple yet powerful. Kilmer uses metaphors and personification to give poetry human-like qualities. For example, he refers to poetry as "a thing of beauty" and "a joy forever." These phrases are not only beautiful in themselves but also reflect the idea that poetry is something that can bring joy and beauty into our lives. Kilmer also personifies poetry by giving it the ability to "speak" and "sing." This personification makes poetry seem more alive and relatable, which is important in a poem that is trying to convince the reader of poetry's value.

Another important aspect of the language used in the poem is the use of repetition. Kilmer repeats the phrase "I think" several times throughout the poem. This repetition emphasizes the speaker's uncertainty and lack of understanding of poetry. However, by the end of the poem, the repetition changes to "I know," which shows that the speaker has come to a realization about the value of poetry. This change in repetition is a powerful way to show the speaker's growth and development throughout the poem.

The themes of the poem are also significant. The main theme is the value of poetry and the importance of understanding its beauty. Kilmer argues that poetry is not just a collection of words but something that can bring joy and beauty into our lives. He also suggests that poetry can help us understand the world around us and connect with others. This theme is still relevant today, as many people still struggle to understand the value of poetry in a world that often values practicality over beauty.

Another theme in the poem is the idea of growth and development. The speaker starts the poem with a lack of understanding of poetry, but by the end, he has come to a realization about its value. This theme is important because it shows that we can all grow and develop, even in areas where we may have previously lacked understanding. It also suggests that poetry has the power to change us and help us grow as individuals.

In conclusion, The Poetry Apology by Joyce Kilmer is a beautiful and timeless poem that explores the value of poetry and the importance of understanding its beauty. The structure, language, and themes of the poem all work together to create a powerful message about the power of poetry to bring joy and beauty into our lives. This poem is a reminder that even in a world that often values practicality over beauty, we should never forget the importance of art and the role it plays in our lives.

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