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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"...a thousand years compressed in battle's pains and prayers..."

In honor of all veterans on this Veterans' and Remembrance Day, Small-leaved Shamrock pays tribute to their service in the form of poetry. Written by Herman Melville, well-known author of Moby Dick, The College Colonel is a look at a young veteran of the Civil War. As stated in The Columbia Book of Civil War Poetry:
"The young colonel has been to war where he has been in the final terrible battles of northern Virginia, and he has prematurely aged."
As Melville writes:
"He has lived a thousand years
Compressed in battle's pains and prayers..."

The College Colonel
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.

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