This poem is occasioned by the discovery in an old stagecoach stop of an unopened letter from Mrs. Mary C. Mann to Mrs. William B. Taliaferro, wife of Confederate General William B. Taliaferro, written
The letter is property of my father, amateur Civil War historian, who traded an outboard motor for the find. It is now in the hands of a preservationist at the University of Virginia, but its fate rests on Dad’s decision either to donate to the College of William and Mary, where Taliaferro’s papers rest, or to hoard his find. Time will tell.
The details in the first two stanzas are gleaned from the letter. The commentary of the last two stanzas is mine. While I revile Mrs. Mann’s venomous sentiments regarding the North and Mr. Lincoln’s Proclamation, I sympathize with all women who have worried for their men and lived their lives helpless of the forces that make the rules. As human, we must try to understand those whose ideas are not our own.
A clock ticks minutes, days,
Generations, centuries, more…
Behind the mantel, lodged within a crack,
A missive waits in silent, sad dismay,
While Pippins, those not fallen and decayed,
Make flat array on proffered china plate,
And garden gay with flowers not yet nipped,
Soft Dahlia and Verbena, ever bloom
And ward away the threat of early frost
Forever in the peace that holds off Doom.
The little ones stay well, the doctor ill;
The neighbor’s youngest daughter still is gone.
Your son remains enthralled by soldier’s turn;
The servants settled, yet you feel alone.
Your husband’s horse once more from you bespoke;
Your visit to the city unfulfilled,
Your thoughts on Proclamation, “vile, extreme,”
Disdain and fear of changes here revealed.
Oh, lady, have you wondered all of time
That words of honeyed warm Virginia Tide
Should fall on ears turned deaf to soft, sweet sounds
And bring no answering measure to your side?
Have you long feared for horrors of the march,
Stampedes of dreadful, frightful things to come?
Would you have been at peace if you had known
That brothers here once more would be as one?
Your genteel letter sent with faith and hope
To silence anxious hearts and fears allay
Was lost to chance behind a piece of wood
And holds your heart in stasis here today.
Go softly to your rest with this sweet thought:
That one who reads the words that went astray,
Long years beyond your joys and fears and love,
Feels these as you, a time and tide away.