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The College Colonel

He rides at their head;
  A crutch by his saddle just slants in view,
One slung arm is 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 lones his brow;
He has lived a thousand years
Compressed in battle's pains and prayers,
  Marches and watches slow.

There are welcoming shouts, 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 disclaimed.

But all through the Seven Day's 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

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