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O Captain! My Captain! (Walt Whitman)
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 "Damn My Captain... I'm almost sorry I ever wrote the poem" (Walt Whitman).

Called the "Bard of Democracy", Walt Whitman is considered one of America's most influential poets of the nineteenth century; transcending traditional epics, he eschews the normal aesthetic form, and reflects the nature of the American experience and its democracy.

It's the only poem anthologized during Whitman's lifetime.

  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 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 ribboned 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 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 mournful tread,
        Walk the deck my Captain lies,
        Fallen cold and dead.

OUR FEARFUL TRIP IS DONE= The poem’s opening tells of the Captain’s success in leading his ship through a long and gruelling voyage. The Civil War is described as a “fearful trip”.

WEATHERED= Worn, stained, or warped by or as if by exposure to weather.

PRIZE= Something offered as an award for superiority or victory. The preservation and victory of the Union is a “prize” that was won.

SOUGHT= (seek-sought-sought) To endeavor, to obtain or reach.

KEEL= The principal structural member of a ship, running lengthwise along the center line from bow to stern, to which the frames are attached.

BUT O HEART! HEART! HEART!= A heartbreaking imploration for the Captain to come alive again, expressing the poet’s refusal to accept his leader’s death.

BLEEDING= Bloody, suggesting the color of blood. The narrator suddenly reveals that the Captain is dead and how devastating this is -"fallen cold and dead".

O CAPTAIN! MY CAPTAIN!= He desperately tries to achieve the Captain comes alive again by offering him the promise of euphoria of the people’s celebration at the shore to which the Captain was returning.

RISE UP: Move upwards.

BELLS= Are presumably the bells rung in celebration of military victory; however, knowing the great Captain and leader has died the bells might also symbolize funeral bells.

THE FLAG IS FLUNG= The flag is flown in honor of the Captain both as a symbol of rejoicing and victory and as a symbol of lamentation.

BUGLE= A brass wind instrument somewhat shorter than a trumpet and lacking keys or valves. It alludes to both military victory and to the requiem traditionally played at funerals of fallen soldiers.

BOUQUET= [bʊ ˈkeɪ] A small cluster or arrangement of flowers.

WREATH= A garland or a circlet of flowers, boughs, or leaves worn on the head. Bouquets and wreathes are also common to both celebratory receptions and funerals.

EAGER= Having or showing keen interest, intense desire, or impatient expectancy.

HERE CAPTAIN! DEAR FATHER!= He refers to the Captain as “father”, which represents the poet’s deep respect for his leader. The word “father” also reflects Abraham Lincoln’s role as the “father” of the Union. The word “father” also describes the leader’s qualities in relation to his followers, and implies caring, responsibility, magnanimity, strength, and wisdom.

PALE AND STILL= Pallid, of a colour whitish and motionless, quiet. The third stanza is a painful effort by the poet to force himself further to accept the reality of his leader’s death. This is done by describing in more detail the indications of death. The Captain’s “lips are pale and still”, he “has no pulse nor will”.

MOURNFUL= Feeling or expressing sorrow or grief; sorrowful. The last four lines describe the narrator’s final thoughts and feelings. Instead of jubilation, the end of the voyage was just an end, solemnly being described as “closed and done”. He expresses that he could not join in the celebration of the voyage’s success because the Captain is dead, expressing once more the narrator’s sorrowful resignation and acceptance of the painful truth. One can surmise that these are an expression of the internal conflict of joy and sorrow that Whitman and many other Americans felt at the time of the end of the Civil War and of Abraham Lincoln’s death.

Walt Whitman pays tribute to Abraham Lincoln in "O Captain! My Captain!" The poem takes the form of an ode, characterized by sustained noble sentiment and appropriate dignity of style. The fallen captain, to whom the speaker alludes is Abraham Lincoln. The poem is an extended metaphor: Lincoln is the captain who has "fallen cold and dead," having been assassinated shortly after the Civil War had ended; the "fearful trip" is the Civil War; "the prize we sought" is the preservation of the Union, something which both Whitman and Lincoln felt was the supreme reason for fighting the war; "the ship" is the United States.

The poet's grief is accentuated by the contrasting celebrations of victory and lamentations of death. The poet recognizes the importance of victory, calling out "Exult O shores, and ring O bells!", but his "mournful tread" prevents him from truly taking part in the festivities. The image of the dead captain, "O heart! heart! heart! / O bleeding drops of red", haunts the poem and the reader is constantly reminded that he has "fallen cold and dead."


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