O Captain! My Captain!

mourning cockade

mourning cockade

There are many excellent reasons why Walt Whitman is considered the poet laureate of the American Civil War. His poetic style is much closer to that of the 20th century’s free verse rather than the labored rhyme schemes so popular in the 1800s, making his work easier for a modern reader to scan. He wrote poetry about the common man serving in the war, especially the wounded and dying, touching hearts both blue and gray. He also seemed to be able to put into words the feelings of many people of the time, giving readers a voice with which they could identify, even if they, themselves, were not poetically inclined.

Whitman wrote three poems concerning the death of President Abraham Lincoln. This one speaks from the point of view of the entire Union:

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 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;

Exult O shores, and ring O bells!

But I with mournful tread,

Walk the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

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About Meg Groeling

CW Historian
This entry was posted in Books & Authors, Common Soldier, Emerging Civil War, Leadership--Federal, Memory, Personalities and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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