Walt Whitman’s O Captain! My Captain!

Written to honor President Abe Lincoln after his assassination, Walt Whitman’s  O Captain!  My Captain! compares the end of the Civil War to the end of a long ship voyage, and Lincoln to a journey weary Captain. Makes sense, as Lincoln did guide the nation through some very choppy seas.

O Captain!  My Captain!

By: Walt Whitman

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady 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 ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here 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 anchor’d 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 mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

The poem is often used as a tribute to leaders in general, and was prominently featured in Dead Poets Society, starring Robin Williams.

Fun fact – a Walt Whitman poetry book carelessly left on a toilet tank would go on to play an important part in AMC’s Breaking Bad.

So, good for you, WW, you honored a great president, and you were featured on a cable drama.

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6 thoughts on “Walt Whitman’s O Captain! My Captain!

  1. They say things come in threes. Today a co-worker said “oh captain my captain” when his Boss came by. The guy in the next cube popped up and said he was copy editing a lesson featuring the poem. Now I’m on the train home and it’s too crowded to write so I’m reading blogs and yours is the first one I see!

  2. I always liked that poem. Thanks for posting it.

  3. sledpress says:

    I think we could all use more Walt on a regular basis.
    http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/20384-i-think-i-could-turn-and-live-with-the-animals

    “O Captain!” has the distinction of showcasing passionate Whitman in metrical and rhyming stanzas, which seem to have vanished by stages from his oeuvre.

    Fun side reference: http://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1772&context=wwqr

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