On Thursday the 11th, as we sat talking to Mother…some one asked for Miriam. She went down, and presently I heard her thanking somebody for a letter…I ran back, and sitting at Mother’s feet, told her Miriam was coming with a letter from Lydia. “Mother! Mother!” a horrible voice cried, and before I could think who it was, Miriam rushed in, holding an open letter in her hand, and perfectly wild. “George is dead!”, she shrieked, and fell heavily to the ground.
-“A Confederate Girl’s Diary” by Sarah Morgan Dawson
While now we think of handwritten letters mainly as a quaint form of correspondence, during the Civil War letters were much more important. Letters were cables of communication connecting apprehensive families at home with their men far away at war. They were lifelines of relief, reassuring anxious mothers that their boys had survived the deadly battle. And all too often letters were the messengers of death, telling the sad tale of the fallen. Imagine waiting, possibly for weeks, between letters, never knowing what those sheets of paper would contain when they arrived.
I wrote this poem to include in a Civil War letter I was writing to a friend. I was inspired by the common practice of sending the remaining possessions of the dead back to the their families. Usually a letter would be written to a family by the deceased man’s commanding officer or comrade. The letter would explain the news of his death, and often times contain some trinket from the departed. A silver watch, a last letter, a lock of golden hair, a brass coat button, all offering one last tangible link with the loved one who had died, and was probably buried hundreds of miles away.
I also wanted this poem to depict the sentiments of death and dying held by most people in the 19th century, while also reflecting my own personal faith. Somewhat unconsciously I explored and juxtaposed the widely differing effect words have. How strange that the same twenty-six characters can be arranged to plunge a heart into the depths of despair, or raise their souls in glorious hope! I hope you enjoy reading The Bible.
With bloodless white lips and ashen pale cheek
She took the small bundle, unable to speak
As cold premonition’s sharp claws gripped her throat
She steadied herself and read the short note
The letter was writ in a thick, unknown hand
And she sank to a chair, unable to stand
For Joseph, her dearest, ‘midst the thick storm of lead
Had not conquered triumphant, but was struck down instead
She glanced at her hand and the dainty gold ring
How bitter the blow and full cruel the sting!
That cut down their hopes so recent in bloom
Now laid like her sweetheart in the black of the tomb
Intensely, but softly she wept in her grief
And the rivulet of tears found no relief
Her thin shoulders shook and she let out a moan
As she thought of her Joe dying unaided, alone
At last, sorrow spent, she shuddered a sigh
And chancing a look down something appeared in her eye
In her haste she had forgot that in the bundle was more
And when sorrow struck, it had dropped to the floor
Curious, she picked up the ponderous thing
And gently unloosed its wrap of paper and string
And lo! In her lap fell a small leather book
That she herself bought and with him Joe took
Tenderly she stroked the cover, smooth from much use
And fingered the thin pages that were starting to loose
A few of the leaves were smudged black with powder
And she thought of him reading as the cannon boomed louder
Tucked ‘tween the pages she found something there
A photograph of her image and a lock of her hair
These three treasured possessions that he carried always
On march, into battle, and in the last fray
Holding a passage was a silk ribbon of red
That she had pulled from her tresses, her heart full of dread
The marked verses were spotted with the salty tear’s stain
Mute evidence of the hope ‘midst the deep sorrow gained
And inscribed near the front in two simple lines
She read what she had written in happier times
“I commend thee to God, Joseph my love,
We shall soon meet again, or else meet above.”
These simple words, the work of her pen
Like bread on the water had come back again
For God knew the hour, the minute, the day
When her Joe would be taken and carried away
Then the promise of the Lord gave strength to her heart
And she knew those in Christ would not long be apart
For on that bright morning when the last trumpet will sound
The dead will arise, and the lost will be found.
October 20, 2015
2 thoughts on “The Bible Poem”
Oh my gosh this is absolutely BEAUTIFUL! So, so good!!!
A moving and meaningful post — and an even more moving and meaningful poem!