Monday, 12 May 2008

"O Captain! My Captain!" by Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman was one of the most influential American poets of the 19th century. Completely self-educated, Whitman read the works of Homer, Shakespeare and Dante as a child. At age 16 he became a school teacher and founded a newspaper at the age of 19. In 1840, Whitman had his first novel published and several short stories. In 1855, Whitman published Leaves of Grass - the work for which he is certainly best known for. The collection of poems in Leaves of Grass are celebrations of the harmony between the human body, spirit, and senses, in combination with the natural world. "Song of Myself", "I sing the Body Electric", and "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" are among the most highly regarded of the poems in Leaves of Grass.

Walt Whitman had great admiration for Abraham Lincoln and dedicated the poem made famous in the movie Dead Poets Society, "O Captain, My Captain", to the fallen president in Leaves of Grass. Today, Whitman remains inspirational to modern day poets not just in America, but in Latin America and France as well. Below is Whitman's famous poem inspired by Abraham Lincoln, O Captain! My Captain!

Source and more information.

O Captain! My Captain!

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 or 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 wrote the poem after Abraham Lincoln's assassination. He admired Abraham Lincoln and was saddened by his death. In the poem, Lincoln is represented by the captain and the United States of America is the ship. The ship has endured obstacles such as Civil War; everything is over, and there is peace. The speaker is feeling bittersweet about the victory.

The poem begins with an image of a ship returning safely to port. Crying out for his captain, the speaker realizes the captain has died at sea. The onlookers onshore celebrate the ship's safe return, but the speaker mourns the death of his captain. As the voyage ends, so does the captain's life.

With a conventional meter and rhyme scheme that is unusual for Whitman, it was also the only poem anthologized during Whitman's lifetime. Whitman later said, "Damn My Captain... I'm almost sorry I ever wrote the poem."

Source and listening (the poem recited).

This is a fragment of the film Dead Poets Society. It alludes to the poem by Whitman, "O Captain! My Captain". It is a very touching scene and definitely a wonderful movie.


dantani.anjali said...

its very boooooring and not at all heart touching

Robin said...

I am a teacher in California. Your teacher has spent a lot of time putting this together for her students (and for others like me who can benefit from it). I would like to encourage you to: 1) keep critical comments to yourself and appreciate what others do for you 2) watch the whole movie 3) get close enough to someone that you would risk your education or job to defend them. Your words have the ability to help or hurt. Please be helpful. The world is literally reading your prose.

Marisa García said...

Thanks, Robin, for your comment. Luckily, there are people like you who appreciate the work done to educate our students. I don't know the person who has written the previous comment but I encourage him/her, as you do, to watch the whole film and think about it as a teacher.