From the recording Lest the Lonesome Bird

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.”