O captain! My Captain! – Walt Whitman
O captain! My Captain!: Summary
The poem ‘O Captain! My Captain!’ is an elegy to the speakers recently deceased captain, at once celebrating the safe and successful return of their ship and mourning the loss of its great leader. In the first stanza, the speaker expresses his relief that the ship has reached its home port at least and describes hearing people cheering. Despite the celebration on land and the successful voyage, the speaker reveals that his Captain’s dead body is lying on the desk.
In the second stanza, the speaker implores the Captain to ‘Rise up and hear the bells’, wishing the dead man could witness the elation. Everyone adored the Captain and the speaker admits that his death feels like a horrible dream.
In the final stanza, the speaker Juxtaposes his feelings of mourning and pride.
O captain! My Captain!: Critical Appreciation
Walt Whitman wrote this poem after president Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. It is an extended metaphor intended to memorise Lincoln’s life and work. The Captain represent the assassinated president, the ship represent the war-weathered nation following the civil war, the ‘prize won’ represent the salvaged Union. The speaker, torn between relief and despair, captures America’s confusion at the end of the Civil War. It was the time of many conflicting sentiments and Whitman immortalizes this sense of uncertainty in ‘ O Captain! My Captain!’.
O captain! My Captain!: Themes
Whitman’s poetry places a lot of emphasis on individual. This particular poem explores a variation on that theme : The Self versus The Other. The speaker struggles with balancing his personal feeling of loss with the celebratory mood resulting from the successful voyage. While the Civil War claim many lives, it led to the reunification of the union, so many Americans felt similarly divided. In Whitman’s poem the speaker believes that he should be a part of ‘other’ group celebrating the return to safety. However his inner thought set him apart from the crowd as he tries to reconcile his emotional reaction to the Captain’s death.
‘O Captain! My Captain! ‘ is the only Walt Whitman’s poem that has a regular meter and rhyme scheme often hailed as the’ father of the free verse ‘. Whitman tended to write his poem without following any kind of ordered poetic form.