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

By 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,

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;

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,—

“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

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,

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,

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

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?