On both paternal and maternal sides of his family, his ancestors were early settlers in Union County. His roots went back to his paternal great grandfather, John Reece, who had settled in the Ivy Log section of the county. A sad event happened to his maternal great grandfather, John Lance, a Methodist minister, who was murdered in 1888 and his body left half-beheaded, lying in Wolf Creek as he returned from preaching. The “moon shiners,” mountain whiskey-makers, were after John Lance because they thought he spoke out against their trade which was an underlying cause of much conflict in mountain areas of the nineteenth century.
Byron Herbert Reece was born in the Lance family ancestral home, where his mother herself had been born into the family of LaFayette Lance. The cabin was located about the middle of the present Lake Trahlyta at Vogel State Park. Juan Reece bought acreage about a mile north of the location of Lake Trahlyta and built a house there. He and Emma reared five of their six children in this house. Alwayne, the eldest, died of meningitis at thirteen months. Growing to adulthood were Eva Mae, Nina Kate, T.R J., Byron Herbert (known as Hub) and Jean.
Early on, Hub Reece showed a propensity for literature, especially poetry and ballads. As he heard them read at his mother’s knees, and learned to read at an early age himself, he avidly pursued all that the Reece’s meager store of books and the country schools of his day could provide for him.
From the cadences of well-beloved ballads and the rhythms of seasons and farm life, Reece fell into a pattern of writing about what he heard, saw and experienced. A keen observer of nature and an astute student of the masters of traditional forms, he early began to compose poetry of high quality. His ease with words and forms blended into exquisite lyrics. He was the recipient of numerous literary awards for his four books of poetry and two novels published between 1945 and 1955. He had contracted to write another novel and his fifth book of poetry but his untimely death occurred June 3, 1958 before these were finished.
From time to time I enjoy selecting one of his poems and writing comments about it, much as I would teach it if I were still in the classroom introducing students to the intricacies of Reece’s poetry, its style, depth and meaning. Here, so near what would have been his ninety-third birthday (September 14), and with the fall season so soon upon us, I have chosen his brief “Autumn Mood” for consideration.
Autumn Mood-Byron Herbert Reece
The leaf flies from the stricken bough,
The aster blows alone;
And in the curve of heaven now
The wild geese tread the dawn.
I would I had no ears to hear
And had no eyes to see
What is so beautiful and dear
in Ballad of the Bones and Other Poems (NY: Dutton, 1945, p. 73)
From the title “Autumn Mood” to the final exclamation point at the end of line eight, Byron Herbert Reece captured a season and a day in time with inimitable ease, economy of words and astute observation.
The lines paint a picture and capably capture the mood of a day in fall in the beloved mountains where Reece looked out to see the falling leaves, the aster in bloom, observed “the curve of heaven” (not the arch of sky, a less-expressive reference), and saw, too, “The wild geese tread the dawn.” Less-poetic people would have seen geese fly. In his poetic manner, he saw them “tread” as they moved in formation. The first four lines do double duty. They paint a picture and they “show and tell.” The result? We see clearly what he writes about. He tells in telescopic form what we see as we read his word picture.
The first four lines paint an autumn scene. The last four lines build the mood of autumn. Oh! But if the observer had no ears to hear, no eyes to see, he would not be affected by what is so soon passing, so beautiful, so dear—escaping. The falling leaves, the fading aster, the migrating geese—all signs of fall, the waning season of the year. A sadness and finality permeate this season. Reece captures this mood aptly in this poem.
What he does not say in “what is so beautiful and dear” we can fill in with our own nostalgic thoughts at this decline of the year. Here are a few:
The falling leaves take gold, magenta and red from the beloved hills, and deciduous tress stand bare, “stricken.” Fall asters, purple in the sun, will soon be dried-up stalks blowing in the wind. The migration of birds, most specifically the wild geese as they “tread the dawn,” represent fast-passing time. With their going comes the soon-return of winter and the birds’ necessity to seek a warmer climate. Left behind, what ears have heard and eyes have seen will soon be only in figments of memory.
What is the beauty in this poem? Its sadness? Yes. Who does not think of fall as the waning time and the time of non-growth, of closure? Fall’s beauty is so soon replaced by stark limbs and a brown carpet of leaves. Color will soon fade from purple asters and the gray remains of stalks will match the ashen oncoming winter and my mood. No longer will eyes behold a V of flying geese at autumn dawn, going further south for winter.
What Reece does not say in the poem is left to the reader’s imagination, associations and memories. How aptly did he title the poem “Autumn Mood.” He painted a powerful vignette of fall in eight cryptic, well-crafted lines. No hidden symbols, no mysterious metaphors adorn this poem. It is to the point, a monument to a moment in time. He emptied his thoughts about fall in eight amazing lines. He gave opportunity to readers to recall their own experiences of fall (and life), which, like “the treading geese,” move on.
If the reader does not come away from this poem with a memorable experience, he does not appreciate the extraordinary of the ordinary. What you read, hear, see and feel in this poem can be expanded by your own experiences. Indeed, there is identification with the scene he paints and the “Autumn Mood” he feels. If you’re poetically inclined, the poem might even inspire you to write your own poem about fall.
c 2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Sept. 9, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.