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Jim Clark: Music

Lest the Lonesome Bird

(Jim Clark)
November 22, 2010
Words: Byron Herbert Reece/Music: Jim Clark

If "I Go by Ways of Rust and Flame" is Reece's signature lyric poem, then "Lest the Lonesome Bird" is probably his signature ballad, at least it is certainly the one that began his serious literary career.  The Kentucky poet and novelist Jesse Stuart read it in a magazine and thought so highly of it that he contacted Reece and offered to recommend Reece to his (Stuart's) publisher, E.P. Dutton, resulting in the publication of Reece's first book of poems, Ballad of the Bones.  This was the first poem of Reece's I attempted to set to music.  The experience was so satisfying that I kept at it until I had a dozen.

Lest the Lonesome Bird



“Mother, lay the fire again

And put the kettle on the stove;

The hills are curtained by the rain,

And I have lost my love.”


“Son, the fire leaps in the grate,

The kettle whistles through its spout,

And supper on the board will wait

Until your story’s out.”


“Well, Mother, yesterday I saw

My loved one walking in the hills,

Twining roses in her hair

And picking daffodils.”


“And there was nothing strange in that.

Had she no word to say to you

That you go like an angry cat

The whole day through?”


“No, Mother, ere the hills became

Green with the young leaf I was lost

By looking on a colder flame

That burns at the heart of frost.


“And yesterday I saw my love

With another lover in the wood,

And who but I should walk with her

In the green solitude?


“I could not bear to see her bend

Her lips to another’s wooing,

And it was never friend and friend

That kissed as they were doing.”


“Stranger things were done, my son;

Nothing may come of it at last;

So let your head see what is done;

The heart runs too fast.”


“The heart too fast and the feet too fast

And the hands too fast to slaughter—

Someone seeks in the woods so vast

Tonight, for a lost daughter.


“And, Mother, lest the lonesome bird

Haunt me from the willow,

I made her a prayer that no one heard

And gave her a stone for a pillow.


“Mother, listen to the rain

That slashes ever harder—

Her handsome lover I have slain

And left him there to guard her.


“Mother, listen to the night

That howls about the eaves—

I hid them well and out of sight

With many little leaves.


“Mother, hush and tend the fire

And lay the bed with a clean cover;

I sleep tonight with a new desire,

With a dread and faithful lover.”