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Too Late

From The Times Dispatch, September 6, 1913.

This poem was written in the dead-house of the Federal prison at Camp Chase, Ohio, by “Col. W. S. H.” of the Confederate army. A fellow-prisoner was engaged to a beautiful Southern lady; she proved faithless, and her letter breaking the troth came soon after his death. This was the colonel’s reply.

Your letter came, but came too late,
    For Heaven had claimed its own;
Ah! sudden change from prison bars
    Unto the Great White Throne!
And yet I think he would have stayed
    For one more day of pain,
Could he have read those tardy words
    Which you have sent—in vain.

I wish that you were by me now
    As I draw the sheet aside,
To see how pure the look he wore
    A while before he died.
Yet the sorrow that you gave him
    Still had left its weary trace,
And a meek and saintly sadness
    Dwells upon his pallid face.

“Her love,” he said, “could change for me
    The winter’s cold to spring”;
Ah! trust of thoughtless maiden’s love,
    Thou art a bitter thing.
For when these valleys fair, in May
    Once more with bloom shall wave,
The Northern violets shall blow
    Above his humble grave.

Your dole of scanty words had been
    But one more pang to bear;
Though to the last he kissed with love
    This tress of your soft hair.
I did not put it where he said,
    For when the angels come
I would not have them find the sign
    Of falsehood in the tomb.

Tonight the cold winds whistle by
    As I my vigil keep
Within the prison dead-house, where
    Few mourners come to weep.
A rude plank coffin holds him now,
    Yet Death gives always grace;
And I would rather see him thus
    Than clasped in your embrace.

Tonight your rooms are very gay
    With wit and wine and song;
And you are smiling just as if
    You never did a wrong.
Your hand so fair that none would think
    It penned these words of pain;
Your skin so white—would God your soul
    Were half so free of stain!

I’d rather be this dear, dear friend
    Than you in all your glee;
For you are held in grievous bonds,
    While he’s forever free.
Whom serve we in this life we serve
    In that which is to come.
He chose his way, you yours; let God
    Pronounce the fitting doom.

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