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  4. [Sonnet] by George Henry Boker

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Brave comrade, answer! When you joined the war,
    What left you? “Wife and children, wealth and friends,
    A storied home whose ancient roof-tree bends
    Above such thoughts as love tells o’er and o’er.”
Had you no pang or struggle? “Yes; I bore
    Such pain on parting as at hell’s gate rends
    The entering soul, when from its grasp ascends
    The last faint virtue which on earth it wore.”
You loved your home, your kindred, children, wife;
    You loathed yet plunged into war’s bloody whirl!—
    What urged you? “Duty! Something more than life.
That which made Abraham bare the priestly knife,
    And Isaac kneel, or that young Hebrew girl
    Who sought her father coming from the strife.”

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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  • George Henry Boker was born in Philidelphia in 1823, the son of a well-off banker. Boker attended Princeton, where he garnered a reputation as a talented young poet, and eventually abandoned law for literature. A poet, playwright, and diplomat, Boker helped found the Union Club (now the Union League of Philadelphia) in 1862 as part of an effort to raise funds for the Civil War and encourage enlistment. After the war, Boker acted as ministers to both Turkey (1871-1875) and Russia (1875-1879).
    Boker’s collections of poems include Poems of the War (1864), Konigsmark (1869), and The Book of the Dead (1882). His historical dramas and verse-plays include Calynos (1848), Leonore de Guzman (1853), and Francesca da Rimini (1855), generally considered his best work. Though little read now, Boker was a well-known playwright during the mid-nineteenth century, and his plays were staged in London, New York, and Philadelphia.

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