Poetry by Byron Herbert Reece

WINTRY SHADOW

Hardly six months away from June,
The bright and temperate afternoon
Was mild as spring’s or summer’s, still
The air contained a certain chill

No instrument might register
But witnessed by the constant chirr
Of crickets hid in leafy gold
Complaining shrilly of a cold

My calendar had not embraced
Until that moment when I faced
Skyward, and saw the waning sun
Shine ghostly through a skeleton,

And one leaf shaking on a bough
Whose spectral substance cast, somehow,
As late November light declined,
Its wintry shadow on my mind.

–Byron Herbert Reece
From A Song of Joy, 1952

 

TWO MEN IN ME

A stone is stone but I am soul and matter;
Unfathomed spirit and enduring bone
Clothed both with flesh which death in dust will scatter
When from the partnership the soul is gone.
Good servants and obedient to my will
Are these my trunk and limbs the nerves enmesh,
And while the soul keeps there its dwelling still
It takes its orders of the temporal flesh.

Two men in me race forth and which shall win
I do not know, nor what the victory,
Nor shall I know until the two go hence
And what I learn I cannot publish then
For he of me who spoke must silent be
When death betrays me to my elements.

Byron Herbert Reece

We Could Wish Them a Longer Stay

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, 1950.

ALL THE LEAVES IN THE WILDWOOD

When softly from the shuttered east
The eye of day began to stare
We crossed the fields, and saw the beasts
All lying close together there.
And farther on where trembling lay
The shadows at the feet of day
The fallen vines, the green leaves wist
How she and I with our lips kissed
And lightly went upon our way.

We made no sound at all upon
The green leaves of the forest floor,
And as we walked the brooks that run
Forbade her wade them, so I bore
Her in my arms; and in the mist
The thin green leaves of the wildwood wist
How she and I with our lips kissed
And went on lightly to our door.

We made a cup of the wildwood leaves
And filled it with the water clear,
And where the stone the water cleaves
She drank and I drank after her.
The hushed air made no slightest stir,
And lightly in the morning mist
All the leaves in the wildwood wist
How she and I with our lips kissed
And parted with no more than that.

From Ballad of the Bones, 1946

THE TRAVELERS

I have come down by many a way
From Dooly to the hills of home,
Though one was best, for if it stray
The meanest road seems good to roam.
And though I have inquired of none
What thoughts with each tall youth abode
As they leaned idly in the sun
And watched me tramp the dusty road,
It was not yesterday time taught,
By keeping me to fields confined,
How there may be escape in thought.
These made a journey in the mind
Until, beyond the hills and me,
They saw, if vaguely and in vain,
The long waves breaking on the sea,
The cities shining on the plain.

— From Bow Down in Jericho, 1950.

The Generations of Thought

The young tree’s reaching root
Spreads from the fallen fruit,
Golden and shaped like day
Before it knew decay.

The infant life, the child
Hopeful and undefiled
Springs from the unity
Love makes of two that die.

And though we guess not how
Thought thrives behind the brow.

The tree and child, who press
Onward to nothingness,
Scatter their seed and mate;
Themselves perpetuate.

And the generations of thought
That know not root nor sire
Nor seed nor even desire
Prosper and perish not.

From Bow Down in Jericho (c)1950
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