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; 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.
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; 20
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
"O Captain! My Captain!" by Walt Whitman is a mournful and celebratory elegy that pays homage to President Abraham Lincoln following his assassination. Through its emotional language, extended metaphor, and contrasting tones, the poem captures the dual emotions of grief and reverence in the wake of a significant loss.
The poem's title addresses Lincoln as the "Captain," a metaphor that likens him to the leader of a ship guiding the nation through the turbulent waters of the Civil War. The poem's structure reflects this metaphor, with the ship symbolizing the United States and Lincoln as its captain.
The first stanza expresses a sense of triumph and relief, depicting the ship's safe return to port after a challenging journey. This stanza mirrors the joy and optimism felt at the end of the Civil War and Lincoln's role in preserving the Union.
However, the tone shifts abruptly in the second stanza as the speaker acknowledges the tragic loss of the captain. The line "O heart! heart! heart!" conveys a sense of anguish and sorrow, revealing the deep emotional impact of Lincoln's assassination.
The third stanza mourns Lincoln's passing and expresses the profound sense of loss felt by the nation. The description of the "bleeding drops of red" on Lincoln's side echoes the imagery of wounds and suffering.
The poem's use of repetition, such as the repeated address "O Captain! My Captain!" and the refrain "fallen cold and dead," emphasizes the intensity of the speaker's grief and the magnitude of the loss.
"O Captain! My Captain!" is both a lamentation for Lincoln's death and a celebration of his leadership and sacrifice. The poem captures the mixed emotions of a nation that mourns a beloved leader while also acknowledging the achievements he guided them toward. It beautifully encapsulates the bittersweet feelings of triumph and tragedy that marked this pivotal moment in American history.