The College Colonel

By Herman Melville 1819–1891 Herman Melville
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 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.

Source: “Words for the Hour”: A New Anthology of American Civil War Poetry, edited by Faith Barrett and Cristanne Miller (University of Massachusetts Press, 2005)

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Poet Herman Melville 1819–1891

Subjects Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 Herman  Melville


Although chiefly known for his magisterial novel Moby-Dick and for other prose works, Herman Melville was also a fascinating poet who turned to the art after his serious fiction failed to find appreciative readers. His eccentric verse displays the complexity of thought and verbal richness of his novels, which has led some critics to rank him just below Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson among 19th-century American poets.

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SUBJECT Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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