O Captain My Captain Poem Analysis

Read this article to know about the summary and analysis of O Captain My Captain by Walt Whitman.

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O Captain my Captain Walt Whitman

Source: WIkimedia

The poem O Captain! My Captain, written by Walt Whitman (1865) consists of 3 stanzas. It was published in his work Leaves of Grass. It is a symbolic poem in which Captain refers to Abraham Lincoln and the Ship refers to USA.

The poem describes the victory of Union after the end of Civil War and also the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Summary of O Captain My Captain by Walt Whitman

20th century poetry

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In the first stanza, the poet calls upon the Captain (Lincoln) of the Ship (USA) that ‘fearful trip’ (dreadful Civil War) has come to an end. They people have won the victory at last, which they quested for i.e. the victory of union.

Poet tells the captain that port (home) is very near and now he can hear the sound of temple bells and the cries of the enthusiastic people who are eagerly waiting for him.

The enthusiasm increases as the ship reaches near the port. Keel has been thrown in the ship so as to keep ship stable.

In the next lines, this enthusiasm is replaced by gloom. The captain is dead now and blood is oozing from his body. This makes the poet to exclaim ‘O heart! Heart! Heart!’

The captain, who was supposed to be praised by the people for his peerless bravery is now lifeless and motionless.

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In the second stanza, the poet tries to talk to the Captain, who, he knows well, is dead. This technique of talking to the dead is called apostrophe.

The poet asks captain to rise up as for him, bells are being rung, flags are being hoisted, musical instruments are being rung, flowers are being curled etc. The people are eagerly waiting for his arrival, but he is dead now.

It should be noted that the captain is dead now and hence these ceremonies are of his funeral. The poet goes in reminiscence and tries to consider this death to be a fancy but at last he has to believe that Captain is dead.

Poet calls him father because for him, Lincoln, is not just a military leader but the father of the nation and laments over his loss.

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In the 3rd stanza, we find duality of emotions. The poet experiences the euphoria of their victory but at the same time laments over the death of Lincoln, which is great loss for the nation.

The poet says that now captain is dead. His lips are pale. He can neither feel the arms of the poet not his heart is beating.

It is such a time when ship has arrived at its destination. The ‘fearful trip’ i.e. horrors of Civil War is over now and there is relief among the people.

People are rejoicing but poet is mourning over the death of Lincoln. The ‘deck’ here refers to cemetery of Lincoln. Poet, moving around this place, laments over his death. Hence the poem ends with both victory as well as loss.

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