Dr. Kumar Gautam Anand
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It is an elegy written to honor the death of Abraham Lincoln.
The poem is a symbolic representation of heart felt agony
over the unfortunate demise of president Abraham Lincoln
after his assignation.
Biographical Details:
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, "Song of Myself”
was one of them. The publication gave him popularity 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.
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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 paralyzed 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.
The originality of the American Walt
Whitman’s poems stemmed from the fact that
he used free verse, and, a sense of realism
and boldness that was considered obscene in
the 19th century. Whitman, often called the
“father of free verse”.
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O Captain! My Captain is a metaphoric poem
written by Walt Whitman that speaks very highly of
America and president, Abraham Lincoln. This
elegy is a part of 4 poems that Walt Whitman wrote
in the memory of his hero.
In this poem, the captain is meant to represent
Abraham Lincoln. The poem states that the captain
has lead his ship through harsh conditions and still
ended up arriving at the treasure or prize. This was
meant to symbolize Abraham Lincoln leading the
US during the tough times of the US civil war,
abolishing slavery and keeping the union together
after the civil war. These achievements are what
earned the high respect from 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.
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Beginning the stanza with O Captain, my Captain
the speaker seems to be both addressing his
Captain and talking to himself about his Captain.
The prize we sought is won is the victory that the
union achieved in the civil war. The port is near,
the bells I hear, the people all exulting is a
reference to the fact that because the war is won,
the people are happy and the end is reached, "our
fearful trip is done" refers to the Civil War being
over.
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The next four lines deliver the message of the
falling dead after the victory. The repetition
of “But O Heart! Heart! Heart!”portrays the
speaker’s horror at the fact that his Captain is
dead, more so because of the repetition three
times. “Bleeding drops of red” symbolize both
the Captains wounds, and also the speakers
wounded heart. The deck of the deck of the
ship is America. The reputation of the lines
shows the rhythm of the poem and portray
emotional.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the
bells;
Rise up--for you the flag is flung--for you
the bugle trills;10
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.
In the second stanza, the speaker blends two
distinct scenes:
one where the crowds gather to celebrate
the military victory of the captain
and the other the crowds mourning him
as a fallen hero.
The bells can be interpreted as both- the bells
of victory and the bells or a church in a
funeral, as well as the bugle can be
interpreted as military calls for victory or as
taps, which is played at soldiers funerals. The
people are both rejoicing in the victory and
also mourning for Captain assassination.
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In the second half of this segment, the
speaker is almost going through denial about
his Captain’s death, calling it a dream. Also,
the line fallen cold and dead is now directed
at the Captain, which emphasizes the denial
of the speaker of his Captain’s death by
speaking to him as if he were alive.
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The poem also shows other people paying
respects to Lincoln. An example would be for
you the flag is flung-for you the bugle trills.
This must have meant there were many
others that appreciated Lincoln as much a
Whitman did.
O Captain My Captain has a simple rhyme
scheme. The first half of the first and third
stanza consists of a couplet scheme, AABB.
The first half of the second paragraph
somewhat has a rhyme in couplets; bells,
trills, crowding, turning. The second part of
each stanza follows an ABCB rhyme scheme.
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.
Walt Whitman is so fond of Lincoln that he
even calls him a father. It is such a high
praise because almost no one would call a
person they never met a father, and mean it.
At the end of each stanza, Whitman reminds
the reader that the captain, Abraham Lincoln,
had not finished his journey and had
perished. It symbolizes him getting
assassinated and the bleeding drops of red
are meant to portray the blood from when
Lincoln was shot.
In the last stanza, the speaker comes to
reality with his Captain’s death. All of the
imagery in the stanza portrays death. Lips
being pale and still, not feeling his arm,
having no pulse, and having no will all point
directly toward death. In this excerpt, In the
last lines of the poem, the speaker talks
about how the rest of the nation should
rejoice in the military victory, but how he will
continue to mourn the Captain. In the last
two lines of the poem, the speaker
acknowledges that his Captain is indeed
dead, and will mourn him.
Overall I would say this poem is a very nice
poem written by Whitman. It creates a happy
and sad mood together because Whitman
writes positives of what happened (such as
Lincoln finding the prize or the people
cheering for him) in the first half of each
stanza but quickly reminds the reader that in
fact Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated