"Oh Captain my Captain" by Walt Whitman

Categories: O Captain My Captain

“O Captain! My Captain!” is a poem written by Walt Whitman in 1865. The poem is classified as an elegy because it is a mourning poem that was written in the memory of someone. The poem was written to honor Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States. Walt Whitman was born in 1819 and died in 1892, so he lived through the American Civil War. Being born close to the founding of the country, he knew people that were a part of the American Revolution.

Through this he experienced the unification and division of the United States. Walt Whitman was extremely patriotic and wrote many poems about the prominence of America. He also wrote poems about urging people to fight for what is right. The poem was known as one of the greatest poems written at the time of the Civil War. The main political and social issue during Whitman’s time was slavery and the rights of African Americans. Whitman was self-described as the poet of America and, during the Civil War, the Union.

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Whitman wanted to see the end of slavery; this was his hope for America. However, it broke his heart to see the nation fighting. He admired Abraham Lincoln immensely because of his political standpoint of universal equality as stated in the constitution. The captain in the poem refers to Abraham Lincoln who is the captain of the ship; this represents the United States of America. The first line establishes a happy mood as it addresses the captain.

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The phrase “our fearful trip is done” is talking about the end of the Civil War. The next line references the ship, America, and how it has “weathered every rack”, meaning America has braved the tough storm of the Civil War, and “the prize we sought”, the end of slavery, “is won”. The following line expresses a mood of jubilation of the Union winning the war as it says “the people all exulting”; however, the next line swiftly shifts the mood when it talks of the grimness of the ship, and the darker side of the war. Many lost their lives in the American Civil War, and although the prize that was sought was won, the hearts still ache amidst the exultation of the people. The repetition of heart in line five calls attention to the poet’s vast grief and heartache because the Captain has bled and lies still, cold, and dead (lines six through eight). This is no doubt referencing the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and Whitman’s sorrow for the death of his idol. In the second stanza the speaker again calls out to the Captain in a light-hearted manner and dictates to “rise up and hear the bells”, to join in on the celebration of the end of the war. The next three lines tell the captain to “rise up” and join in on the revelries because it is for him. He is the reason for their merriment: “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”. Everyone is celebrating what Lincoln accomplished; this is not only the abolishment of slavery but also the formation of the Union and the coming together of people. Again the poet calls to the Captain as if he had never fallen. The poet does not wish to acknowledge the death of his beloved Captain, and he even asks if it is some dream (line 15) that the Captain has fallen “cold and dead”. The third stanza begins in a somber mood as the poet has finally accepted that the Captain is dead and gone. Here there is vivid and darker imagery such as “his lips are pale and still” and the reader can picture the dead Captain lying there still and motionless with “no pulse nor will”. In line 17, the poet calls out “My Captain,” and in line 18, the poet refers to the Captain as “My father”. This is referring to Lincoln as the father of the United States. Lines 19 and 20 are concluding statements that summarize the entire poem. The United States is “anchor’d safe and sound”. It is safe now from war with “its voyage closed and done, from fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won”. The country has accomplished its goal of the abolishment of slavery and the unification of people after a fearful war. In line 21, the examples of apostrophe, ordering “shores to exult,” and “bells to ring” are again referring to how the nation is celebrating while “I with mournful tread, Walk the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead”. Throughout the paper there is a distinct rhyme scheme, which is unusual for Whitman. The rhyme scheme in “O Captain! My Captain!” is AABCDEFE, GGHIJEKE, and LLMNOEPE for each stanza respectively. Two examples of alliteration are in line 10 “flag is flung”, as well as in line 19 “safe and sound”. Repetition occurs many times in this poem, for example “O Captain! My Captain”, and “fallen cold and dead”.

O Captain, My Captain: My Father As My Role Model

Growing up, I have always resented my father's strictness, not understanding the decisions he made. Doing things in life that I thought were completely irrational and unreasonable. It was only until I became the captain of my basketball team when I really started to understand my father and the decisions he made.

Both a father and the captain of a basketball team constantly show their reliability to the ones around them. Being reliable is difficult; it takes hard work. Reliable people put others’ needs over their own. Reliable people must read the needs of others and act on fulfilling them, even when he or she does not truly understand their own desires.

Fathers know what is best for their child better than the child can comprehend. For example, about five years ago during the summer, my family and I decided to stay at my grandparents lake house in Wisconsin for a week. I loved it there. It was so beautiful. The lake was as calm as laying in bed for a few minutes in the morning before hopping into your day. The trees were as vivid as a bouquet of a thousand different flowers. Before we left, my grandpa dropped off the keys to the lake house. Running late as usual to leave, my father told me to grab the keys and bring them with. About four hours into our drive I realized something. I forgot the keys to the lake house! I fearfully told my dad that I did not have them. Right when I said that my dad turned around and started laughing. “Check your front backpack pocket” he said with a smirk. The keys were right there in my front pocket. My dad knew I would forget the keys so he put them in my backpack without me knowing. My father knows me better than I know myself. I can always depend on him even when it is for something as little as remembering to bring the keys.

Believe it or not, the father isn’t the only person who has to be reliable. In basketball, the captain must always be reliable to his teammates and coaches. Being reliable in basketball means having a humble and modest attitude on the court. A reliable basketball captain does not believe that he or she is better than everyone else, but that he or she is open minded and genuinely caring. A captain must be able to know all his teammates strengths and weaknesses and be able to utilize their strengths on the court. He needs to show his teammates that when they leave their clothes on the locker room floor, that their captain will always clean up after them so the team does not have to run. A captain has many responsibilities. And when your captain puts your needs ahead of his and knows you better then you know yourself, then you can rely on your captain.

Not only do fathers and captains have to put others first, but they also have the hard task of being able to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

Being a role model is sort of implied in the word dad. Especially to children, showing that you really care for them is one of the best things you can give them. To me, my dad is an incredible role model. Of course, my father always tells me how to act in public and communicate with people properly. But unlike most fathers, my dad actually does those things. In everyday life, my dad always acts with proper manners and is always modeling to me how to be genuine and caring to others. To me, being able to actually see my father doing these things is much more valuable than a father who just tells you how to act.

Just like fathers, captains also have the difficult task of not being a dissimulator. Being the captain of your basketball team is more than just a title. The captain has many more responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is being a role model, and not just your typical role model who sits there and acts like they're better than everyone else, but the role model that actually acts as a leader. But more importantly, the role model who cares for the people around them. The captain never complains to the referee when a call does not go their way because he knows if he does, his teammates will think it is okay to act that way when it is not. A captain never puts his head down after missing a shot, or walk back on defense after missing an easy layup. Being a role model is especially tough in basketball because one must never be a hypocrite. That is not as easy as one thinks. On the court, if the captain yells at his teammates about making their layups or running the plays correctly, and then the captain gets into the game and misses an easy layup or forgets a play, that reflects poorly on him. The captain’s teammates will look down on him and start to lose their trust in him.

Believe it or not, my dad was once a captain too. As I get older, my father sees more of himself in me. He is starting to trust me more and is giving me more freedom to do the things I want to do. The more I want to become my father, the better our relationship gets. The power of his daily actions speak louder than his words. Who knows, I may even find myself in his shoes one day.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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"Oh Captain my Captain" by Walt Whitman. (2016, Apr 21). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/oh-captain-my-captain-by-walt-whitman-essay

"Oh Captain my Captain" by Walt Whitman essay
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