Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

April: National Poetry Month Honoring Union County Native Byron Herbert Reece

The whole month of April has been set aside as a time to honor poets, especially American poets, and to promote an appreciation of poetry and its richness as a literary genre.

I invite you (again) to explore with me some of the rich legacy of our native Union County poet, Byron Herbert Reece, whose life, all too short (September 17, 1917 - June 3, 1958), encompassed forty years and nine months. He left a literary legacy of inimitable poetry in lyrics that are yet to be explored sufficiently to their depths of perception.

Four books of poetry, Ballad of the Bones (1945), Bow Down in Jericho (1950), A Song of Joy (1955), and The Season of Flesh (1955) contain the corpus of his poetic production. Yet he wrote many more poems not contained within the pages of these four books. As many of his poems as could be found (those in the four published books of poetry and others published elsewhere or unpublished) were professionally recorded on audio disks by reader Keith Jones in 2007 using the services of the National Recording Company of Rome, Georgia (by owner and manager, Johnny Carter, who, himself, has a great interest in Reece and has ties ancestrally to Union County). The set of audio disks is available either from the Byron Herbert Reece Society of Young Harris or from the recording company in Rome. For hours of good listening, you might like to purchase this Reece audio poetry collection.

In addition to being a poet, Reece also received acclaim for this two published novels, each of which demonstrates his remarkable genius as a writer. Someone has said of the novels and their style of writing: Poetic and lyrical in nature, the novels are "Flawlessly written, filled with tenderness and human understanding" (from blurb of Better a Dinner of Herbs (1950). About The Hawk and the Sun (1955) this was written: "This realistic and shocking story, (is) set forth in the commanding and lyrical style of a writer hailed for his talents as a poet" (blurb).

Reece has the young lad Danny (a character in Better a Dinner of Herbs) ponder about the coming of spring to the mountains and the farm in the phrase: "When Spring begins to stain" (p. 127). Danny's thoughts, as he hoes the corn, are likewise poetic: "As the sap rose in the trees and the first flowers began to open in the wayward places, he felt inside himself a vigor that made him want to gambol with the young lambs in the spring pasture." There are numerous examples in the two novels of Reece's keen observation of nature and his poetic bent in descriptive narrative.

In this short column, it would be impossible to laud the genius and talent of "our" poet, one who was first and foremost a farmer and then a poet. It is true that many of his poems explore the theme of death, of Time's passage, of melancholy themes. But in my opinion, some of his most exquisite writings demonstrate his ability to be one with Nature, one with the seasons, one with growing things, and with the beloved land of his mountain farm home.

I highly recommend that you go again to Reece's books of poetry (I hope you have them in your collection; certainly you can see them at a Georgia library near you if you don't own them) and read his lyrical treasures.

I am hard-pressed to select a "favorite" among his many styles: lyrical ballads, sonnets, lyrical poems on a variety of subjects, keen observations and polished language in all. But somehow, at this time of year, April and spring's advent, I reread his poems about spring and am lifted and inspired by them. I give lines from some short ones in tribute to his lyrical skill, for your reading pleasure, and to honor him during April, National Poetry Month. There are many, many more than the three cited here.

Although it is not in the mind
For youth to be brief as the summer
Earth's seasons are all of a kind.
The earliest comer
To spring must witness the bough
Translate the blooming that dapples
The land untouched by the plow,
To the falling of apples.
(from Ballad of the Bones, c1945, p. 74).

Now that the year's advanced to the spring
And leaves grow large and long
Forget each sorry and rueful thing
Hearing the wild bird's song.
The leaf will fall, the bird will fly
And winter close the year,
But O, put all such knowledge by
Now that spring is here!
(from Bow Down in Jericho, c1950, p. 108)

Plum, peach, apple and pear
And the service tree on the hill
Unfold blossom and leaf.
From them comes scented air
As the brotherly petals spill.
Their tenure is bright and brief.
We could wish them a longer stay,
We could wish them a charmed bough
On a hill untouched by the flow
Of consuming time, but they
Are lovelier, dearer now
Because they are soon to go,
Plum, peach, apple and pear
And the service blooms whiter than snow.
(from Bow Down in Jericho, c1950, p. 109)

His poems need no explanation or comment; they stand alone, they speak for themselves.

I invite you to explore Reece's poetry for yourself during this month set aside for poetic pursuit. As many times as I have perused his books of poetry (and prose), I always find something refreshing and thought-provoking each time I read them. We owe it to his poetic genius and memory to let his poems speak to us anew in this 90th anniversary of his birth, 2008.

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Apr. 10, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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