Death poetry from the mid-19th century

Posted on October 30, 2011 by


Since we’re on the eve of Halloween…

While I’ve mentioned her more than once, she is, by far, my favorite source for death poetry this time of year. Not only that, but Cornelia Jane Matthews Jordan was well connected to the Shenandoah Valley’s society circle.

The following poem was written by Jordan ca. 1848, focused on her sister-in-law, Gabriella Jordan Meem, wife of Gilbert Simrall Meem.


AH, brief indeed was life’s fair dream,
Sweet Friend, to thee!
How “passing strange” and sad doth seem
Thy destiny.

Two fleeting months–and thou didst stand,
A timid Bride;
And he who claimed thy “heart and hand,”
Stood by thy side.

With rapt’rous ear he heard thee breathe
Love’s fervent vow,
And saw the Orange blossoms wreathe
Thy queenly brow.

What blissful joy then did light
His loving eye.
Ah! little thought he, one so bright
Could surely die.

Too true, alas! the grave’s cold breath
Is on thee now;
No more the beauteous “bridal wreath”
Bedecks thy brow.

Fond hearts that loved thee, now are sad,
And sigh in vain;
For thy dear smile to cheer and glad
Their home again.

They who around thy couch of pain
Did watch and weep,

Mourn now, that nought shall break again
Thy dreamless sleep.

She too, who soothed with gentle hand
Thy burning brow,
Sees now the fairest of her band
In death laid low.

Ah, little reck’st thou of the tears
Thus vainly shed;
For hushed are all thy trembling fears,
Thou sinless dead.

Blest, happy spirit–thou dost roam
In realms of light;
And to thy distant, radiant home,
Shall come no blight.

No withering flowers there shall bind
Thy gentle brow:
A fadeless wreath, by Angels twined,
Adorns thee now.

The joys that crown that life above,
Ah, who can tell!–
He calls thee hence whose name is Love,–
Dear one–farewell!

Gabriella died on December 31, 1848.

G.S. Meem

Her widow, Gilbert Simrall Meem (his father, John G. Meem, owned the more popular Meem home, “Mount Airy”, located in Meem’s Bottom, Shenandoah County. Gilbert built a comparable home of elegance, “Strathmore”, in the “Bottom” in the 1870s), became known as a noted breeder of livestock in Virginia, was elected to the House of Delegates (1852 -1854), and was a brigadier general of Virginia militia (commanded the 7th Brigade, which consisted of the 58th, 97th, 136th, and 146th Regiments, from Shenandoah, Rockingham, and Page counties), before and during the Civil War. He resigned his commission in February of 1862, possibly under the allegations that he was an alcoholic.

In October 1863, he married Nannie Rose Garland (1839-1930), sister to Confederate Gen. Samuel Garland*, who was killed at the Battle of South Mountain, September 14, 1862.

In 1892, Meem sold his property in Virginia, and relocated to Seattle, Washington, where he was appointed U.S. Postmaster by President Grover Cleveland. [See his obituary, here].

*One of G.S. Meem’s sisters, Eliza, was the wife of Gen. Garland, and preceded the general in death by over a year.

Another marriages in the Meem-Jordan-Garland triangle was that of Andrew R. Meem to Anne Jordan… Anne being a sister to Gabriella, and sister-in-law of Cornelia J.M. Jordan.

G.S. Meem lost a brother, Lawrence (serving as adjutant to his brother-in-law, Samuel Garland, in the 11th Virginia Infantry), in action at the Battle of Seven Pines. Captain Thomas Goree, Longstreet’s aide-de-camp, remembered… “just before the battle commenced, I was riding along with Capt. Meem (Genl Garland’s adj) and was laughing heartily at him for letting his horse throw him. I saw him a few hours afterwards a corpse, shot through the head with a minie ball.”