Tag Archives: Joyce Kilmer

I Think that I Shall Never See a Billboard Lovely as a Tree

Joyce Kilmer? Ogden Nash? Confucious? Anonymous?

freeway10Dear Quote Investigator: April is National Poetry Month in the U. S., and Arbor Day also occurs in this month. A famous poem by Joyce Kilmer begins with the following couplet: 1

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A comical riff on this work begins with the following lines:

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.

I have seen multiple versions of this humorous poem that criticizes the massive signs next to highways. Would you please determine the proper text and the creator’s identity?

Quote Investigator: The October 15, 1932 issue of “The New Yorker” published a poem titled “Song of the Open Road” by Ogden Nash who was a popular wordsmith of light verse. This was the earliest publication known to QI: 2

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,
I’ll never see a tree at all.
—OGDEN NASH

Over the decades, variants of the text have evolved. By 1940 Ogden Nash had produced a modified version of his own verse. He published a collection of works titled “The Face is Familiar” containing an instance of the poem that replaced the word “perhaps” with the word “indeed”. This made the point of the poem more emphatic.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. Date: 1913 October, Periodical: Boys’ Life, Poem title: Trees, Poem author: Joyce Kilmer, Quote Page 2, Publisher: Boy Scouts of America, Inc. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. Date: 1932 October 15, Periodical: The New Yorker, Poem title: Song of the Open Road, Poem author: Ogden Nash, Quote Page 18, Column 2, Publisher: F.R. Publishing Corporation, New York. (Online Archive of page scans of The New Yorker; accessed archives.newyorker.com April 11, 2015)