The College Colonel

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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.

© Herman Melville