Gene Chague: Poet Kilmer once wrote about the Berkshires



For you fishermen and stream enthusiasts, here is a poem which you may enjoy. The poem was discovered in the North Adams Library by Paul Ouellette of Lanesborough, and read at a Taconic Trout Unlimited Chapter meeting more than 25 years ago. It still is required reading for TU members.

Paul is in his 90s now, but I’ll bet he can still recite that poem from memory. You’ll never guess who wrote it.

There’s a brook on the side of Greylock that used to be full of trout,

But there’s nothing there now but minnows; they say it is all fished out.

I fished there many a Summer day some twenty years ago,

And I never quit without getting a mess of a dozen or so.

There was a man, Dave Lilly, who lived on the North Adams road,

And he spent all his time fishing, while his neighbors reaped and sowed.

He was the luckiest fisherman in the Berkshire hills, I think.

And when he didn’t go fishing he’d sit in the tavern and drink.

Well, Dave is dead and buried and nobody cares very much;

They have no use in Greylock for drunkards and loafers and such.

But I always liked Dave Lilly, he was pleasant as you could wish;

He was shiftless and good-for-nothing, but he certainly could fish.

The other night I was walking up the hill from Williamstown

And I came to the brook I mentioned,

and I stopped on the bridge and sat down.

I looked at the blackened water with its little flecks of white

And I heard it ripple and whisper in the still of the Summer night.

And after I’d been there a minute it seemed to me I could feel

The presence of someone near me, and I heard the hum of a reel.

And the water was churned and broken, and something was brought to land

By a twist and flirt of a shadowy rod in a deft and shadowy hand.

I scrambled down to the brookside and hunted all about;

There wasn’t a sign of a fisherman; there wasn’t a sign of a trout.

But I heard somebody chuckle behind the hollow oak

And I got a whiff of tobacco like Lilly used to smoke.

It’s fifteen years, they tell me, since anyone fished that brook;

And there’s nothing in it but minnows that nibble the bait off your hook.

But before the sun has risen and after the moon has set

I know that it’s full of ghostly trout for Lilly’s ghost to get.

I guess I’ll go to the tavern and get a bottle of rye

And leave it down by the hollow oak, where Lilly’s ghost went by.

I meant to go up on the hillside and try to find his grave

And put some flowers on it -- but this will be better for Dave.

The poem is entitled Dave Lillie and it was written by none other than the famous poet Joyce Kilmer. Yes, the same guy who wrote the poem "Trees". You remember it, "I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a treeĊ  ."

A lot of we Lenox Dale grade school kids back in the 1940s and 1950s had to learn that poem and recite it in class. I don’t know if kids even learn poetry in school any more. But I digress.

It is obvious that he (Alfred Joyce Kilmer) lived in or visited the North Berkshires, because he mentioned some local landmarks such as Mount Greylock, North Adams Road and the town of Williamstown in the poem. According to research conducted by Paul W. Marino (, a Lillie family farmed in what is now the watershed of Mount Williams Reservoir, which he believes is the area to which Kilmer referred.

Marino notes that Kilmer, who was born and raised in New Brunswick, N.J., was no stranger to the Berkshires. For many years, his mother maintained a summer home in Cheshire.

At the age of 31, Kilmer was killed in World War I, during the Second Battle of the Marne on July 30, 1918. On that day he volunteered to accompany Major William "Wild Bill" Donovan when Donovan’s First Battalion was sent to lead the day’s attack.

According to Wikipedia, most of his poems are largely unknown and several critics including his contemporaries and modern scholars have disparaged Kilmer’s work as being too simple and overly sentimental, and suggested that his style was far too traditional, even archaic.

Well, some of us simple, archaic old folks do like his poems.

Many thanks to Matt Tannenbaum of the Bookstore in Lenox for helping me research this article.


Happy 100th birthday goes to the Berkshire Hatchery, an environmental and operational landmark on the Konkapot River in New Marlborough. The Hatchery was created when the family of John Sullivan Scully, a trout fisherman, entrusted their 148-acre retreat to the U.S. government in 1914. It became a federal hatchery in 1919.

Scully is to be honored today at the Hatchery’s Lobsterfest.

As Berkshire Hatchery Foundation President George B. Emmonds so eloquently wrote in his article in the August issue of The Monterey News: "As the sound of music at the afternoon celebration filters over a picturesque mountain setting, with the year round flow of 300 gallons a minute of perfect 47-degree water, attendees will be asked to join in singing this song of praise to honor the generosity of Scully’s [Irish] ancestral heritage. Although it was 100 years ago that the founding angler rounded a bend in the river of life, he will be with us in spirit as his legacy lives on."

Hope you are one of the lucky ones attending today’s Lobsterfest.

To reach Gene Chague:,
or (413) 637-1818.


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