The Passing of an American Tradition

On a June evening in 1958, a few days before commencement, Byron Herbert Reece finished grading the final exams of his students, then neatly stacked the papers and placed them in his desk drawer. He sat entranced. The crisp north Georgia mountain air blowing in through the open window reminded him of his home only an hour away. The distance seemed an eternity to him. He walked to the phonograph, put on a Wanda Landowska rendition of Mozart’s “Piano Sonata in D”, then sat down and poured himself another drink hoping to numb the pain nagging at his heart.

It seemed he’d been lonely all his life. He desired to marry, but how could he even consider it? No matter how hard he had worked, and he’d worked damn hard, he always came up on the short end of the stick. America’s greatest lyricist, as the critics acclaimed him, suffering from the same tuberculosis of which his mother had died – his father dying still – got up, placed a bullet in his .32 automatic pistol, and killed himself.

Byron Herbert Reece, a farmer poet, lived simply and wrote of what he knew best, religion and mountain lore. His life and death epitomized the passing of an American tradition: hard work and honest living reward one for his efforts. Accordingly, Reece died an appropriate death, a self-inflicted wound to the heart.



The round day was a circus tent

Across whose top the sun

Crawled like a fly on fiery legs.

But when the day was done

The night stretched out unendingly,

And I could scarce recall

Whether or not upon this spot

The dawn came down at all.



Autumn frosts the hedges,

The cricket plays his flute,

And high on ladder-ledges

The pickers pluck the fruit.


Before the sun has faded

Beyond the edge of day

The orchard is denuded,

The apples stored away;


Except those left to wither

And feed the sluggish bee

Because no hand could gather

Them from the tallest tree!


Ballad of the Bones and Other Poems – Byron Herbert Reece – page 69

More of Reece’s poems:

3 thoughts on “The Passing of an American Tradition

  1. I read your post as the last few rays of the day’s sun barely reached the earth….just enough light to read this sadness. Very fitting. Solemn and sobering.

    Liked by 1 person

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