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Thomas Hardy (1840–1928). Wessex Poems and Other Verses. 1898.

28. The Casterbridge Captains

THREE captains went to Indian wars,

And only one returned:

Their mate of yore, he singly wore

The laurels all had earned.

At home he sought the ancient aisle

Wherein, untrumped of fame,

The three had sat in pupilage,

And each had carved his name.

The names, rough-hewn, of equal size,

Stood on the panel still;

Unequal since.—“’Twas theirs to aim,

Mine was it to fulfil!”

—“Who saves his life shall lose it, friends!”

Outspake the preacher then,

Unweeting he his listener, who

Looked at the names again.

That he had come and they’d been stayed,

’Twas but the chance of war:

Another chance, and they’d sat here,

And he had lain afar.

Yet saw he something in the lives

Of those who’d ceased to live

That rounded them with majesty

Which living failed to give.

Transcendent triumph in return

No longer lit his brain;

Transcendence rayed the distant urn

Where slept the fallen twain.