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.