Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > America
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX.  1876–79.
 
Southern States: Malvern Hill, Va.
A Message
Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (1844–1911)
 
WAS there ever message sweeter
  Than that one from Malvern Hill,
From a grim old fellow,—you remember?
  Dying in the dark at Malvern Hill.
With his rough face turned a little,        5
  On a heap of scarlet sand,
They found him, just within the thicket,
  With a picture in his hand,—
 
With a stained and crumpled picture
  Of a woman’s aged face;        10
Yet there seemed to leap a wild entreaty,
  Young and living—tender—from the face
When they flashed the lantern on it,
  Gilding all the purple shade,
And stooped to raise him softly,—        15
  “That ’s my mother, sir,” he said.
 
“Tell her”—but he wandered, slipping
  Into tangled words and cries,—
Something about Mac and Hooker,
  Something dropping through the cries        20
About the kitten by the fire,
  And mother’s cranberry-pies; and there
The words fell, and an utter
  Silence brooded in the air.
 
Just as he was drifting from them,        25
  Out into the dark, alone,
(Poor old mother, waiting for your message,
  Waiting with the kitten, all alone!)
Through the hush his voice broke,—“Tell her—
  Thank you, Doctor—when you can,        30
Tell her that I kissed her picture,
  And wished I ’d been a better man.”
 
Ah, I wonder if the red feet
  Of departed battle-hours
May not leave for us their searching        35
  Message from those distant hours.
Sisters, daughters, mothers, think you,
  Would your heroes now or then,
Dying, kiss your pictured faces,
  Wishing they ’d been better men?        40
 
 
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