Sunday Night Journal, April 1, 2018
Sunday Night Journal, April 8, 2018

52 Poems, Week 14: There Never Was Time (Byron Herbert Reece)

THERE NEVER WAS TIME

I wish, he said, the years would linger
And fly less fast to make me old;
My face is a mask that time’s swift finger
Models, moulding wrinkle and fold
In sagging flesh youth fashioned true
To the ageless image engraved on brass,
Of a young face Rome or Athens knew.
(There was time for youth to pass.)

Time had a long look when I was twenty;
Was there anything I had not done
And yet would do? Well, there was plenty
Of daylight left in the cycling sun.
The roughs of knowledge that wanted scaling
Loomed --- there was time to be a sage;
Time and to spare to heal all ailing.
(And time enough for a man to age.)

But now the night that has no breaking
Shadows the sun gone down the west,
And my heart in its damaged case is aching
After lost years too brief at best.
I know a journey that yet wants going,
I know a song that is still to sing,
I know a fallow that waits the sowing ---
(There never was time for everything.)

Byron Herbert Reece (1917-1958) was an Appalachian farmer-poet from Georgia, who was fairly well-known at mid-century. He was praised for both his rustic lyrical poetry and his ballads, and received a Pulitzer Prize nomination for his 1950 collection Bow Down in Jericho. “There Never Was Time” is from his 1952 collection A Song of Joy. Although Reece’s poems are hit and miss for me, there are some, like this one, that I like very much. It strikes me as especially poignant, as it speaks in the voice of an aging man, and while Reece was only 35 when it was published, in some ways he was already an old man, and perhaps had an inkling that he was not long for this world. He would die by his own hand a mere six years later, suffering from depression and tuberculosis.

--Rob Grano has a degree in religious studies, which he's put to good use working for a medical laboratory for the past 15 years. He's published a number of book and music reviews and occasionally has gotten paid for it. He lives outside of Pittsburgh, Pa

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

This is intensely poignant. It really hits home at my age. Striking that such a young man wrote it. But then apart from the reference to wrinkles it could refer to any time of life when one knows that the remainder is not so very long.

Well, that's about what I was going to say, but I'll add this.

At 67, it seems a bit amusing that a person would think that way at 35, but while I don't think it began that young for me--for one thing I was pregnant when I was 35, and so something was beginning--I was probably thinking that way 10 years later--15 at the most, and now that seems silly. I've had a whole different stage of my life since I was 50.

AMDG

When I was in my late 20s I was depressed because Keats was already dead at my age. That kind of thinking is always in a sense applicable, but it sure gets a lot more so once you're past 60 or so, depending on what you wanted or expected to do with your life. I feel sorry for athletes and beauty queens and others whose physical attributes are so essential but which fade so soon.

I remember around 35 a friend of the same age saying that he was bothered by the fact that he couldn't expect to make many more fresh starts.

I'm going to say this, although it will sound pietistic.

We simply don't know what astonishing, beautiful thing or things we have accomplished or will accomplish in this brief, tempestuous life. And it is good for us that we don't know.

Keats was not me and did not achieve whatever it is that I've achieved. Maybe he is in a place to know what I have done and is saying, "Wow. Wow."

Of course, I often ask myself, "Why have I done so little good?" I'm in good company. Even St. Francis said to his brothers as he was dying, “Let us begin, brothers, to serve the Lord God, for up until now we have done little or nothing.”

Well said.

I certainly realize that my comparison of myself to Keats was foolish. Even now, though, I'm still not entirely free of the desire for some kind of worldly approval.

Me,too. Which is why I have to repeat this to myself.

The comments to this entry are closed.