by Herman Melville
He rides at their head;
A crutch by his saddle just slants in view,
One slung arm in splints, you see,
Yet he guides his strong steed -- how coldly too.
He brings his regiment home --
Not as they filed two years before,
But a remnant half-tattered, and battered, and worn,
Like castaway sailors, who -- stunned
By the surf's loud roar,
Their mates dragged back and seen no more --
Again and again breast the surge,
And at last crawl, spent, to shore.
A still rigidity and pale --
An Indian aloofness lines his brow;
He has lived a thousand years
Compressed in battle's pains and prayers,
Marches and watches slow.
There are welcoming shots, and flags;
Old men off hat to the Boy,
Wreaths from gay balconies fall at his feet,
But to him -- there comes alloy.
It is not that a leg is lost,
It is not that an arm is maimed,
It is not that the fever has racked --
Self he has long since disclaimed.
But all through the Seven Days' Fight,
And deep in the Wilderness grim,
And in the field-hospital tent,
And Petersburg crater, and dim
Lean brooding in Libby, there came --
Ah heaven! -- what truth to him.
THE COLLEGE COLONEL