"O Captain, My Captain" by Walt Whitman is an elegy, as it was written to honor the death of a person. The poem is a symbolism poem resembling president Abraham Lincoln after his assignation.
Walt Whitman was born on the 31st of may, 1819, in Long Island, New York. His life's work, Leaves of Grass, made him one of the first American poets to be famous world wide. Whitman spent most of his young life in Brooklyn, where he worked as a printer and newspaper journalist through the 1850s. The first edition of Leaves of Grass was privately printed in 1855 and consisted of 12 untitled poems, one of which was to later become famous as "Song of Myself." His literary style was experimental, he expressed nature, and self that has since been described as the first expression of a distinctly American voice. Although Leaves of Grass did not sell well at first, it became popular in literary circles in Europe and, later, the United States. Whitman published a total of eight editions during his lifetime. During the Civil War Whitman moved to Washington, D.C., where he served as a civil servant and volunteer nurse. There he published the poetry collections Drum Taps and Sequel to Drum Taps in 1865, the latter containing his famous elegies for Abraham Lincoln, "Where Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" and "O Captain! My Captain!" In 1873 he was paralysed after a stroke and moved to Camden, New Jersey. By the time of his death he was an international literary celebrity, and he is considered one of the most influential poets in American literature.
O Captain! My Captain!
by Walt Whitman
O captain! my captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the stead keel, the vessel grim and daring.
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red!
Where on the deck my captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O captain! my captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up! for you the flag is flung, for you the bugle trills:
For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths, for you the shores a-crowding:
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning.
O captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck
You've fallen cold and dead.
My captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will.
The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done:
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won!
Exult, O shores! and ring, O bells!
But I, with silent tread,
Walk the spot my captain lies
Fallen cold and dead.
This poem is about America's acknowledgement of Abraham Lincoln as the leader of their country, who held the nation together through the worst crisis in its history. He led the country to victory, and won the civil war, and ended the institution of slavery. He is viewed, not only in the poet's eyes, but in the eyes of the nation, America as the savior of American union and the "Great Emancipator." Soon after the civil war ended, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
The poet uses metaphors to express his ideas. He uses "captain" as Abraham Lincoln. The "ship" is the civil war. He refers to the civil war as the "victor ship". This makes sense because Lincoln serves as the commander of the civil war. At the end of the first verse, Lincoln dies while "bleeding drops of red". "From fearful trip the victor ship comes in the with object won." Whitman focuses on that right after the Civil war ends, Lincoln dies. He does that with the poem too, by saying, "The port is near" and then later saying "where on the deck the captain lies, fallen cold and dead." Whitman also refers to Lincoln as a father, because he is the father of his nation. The speaker of the poem does not want to believe that the captain is dead, by saying, "My Captain does not answer his lips pale and still, My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will." But then, sadly, he realizes that the captain will not come back.
The poet uses 3 of the five senses to evoke certain reactions in the reader. The reader can see the ship and the cold dead captain lying on the deck. At first, the victor ship is a joyous thing, but then seeing the captain dead, the poem suddenly turns sad and sorrowful. The reader can hear the nation calling for the captain. But the captain cannot hear the nation. The reader can feel the dead body of the captain, holding him in their own arms. As it says
O captain! Dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
overall, this gives the reader a dramatic reaction, in a sad, shocking kind of way.
The poem is divided into three sections. Each section has got 2 paragraphs. Each paragraph has four lines each. The first paragraph of each section, has a rhyming scheme of a-b, a-b. The second paragraph of each section, has a rhyming scheme of a-c, b-d. This gives the poem an overall effect of a melodic character. In the three sections, the lines of the first paragraph are longer than the lines on the second paragraph. The first paragraph is the question, and the second paragraph is the answer.
The poet is trying to communicate with the reader his acknowledgement and love for Abraham Lincoln, and his grief of his death. Walt Whitman speaks not only for himself, but for his whole nation America as Abraham Lincoln is the savior of their nation, and they embrace him as their hero.
This poem has a strong significance in the movie, "Dead Poets Society".