Weekly Whitman: “O Captain! My Captain”

Once one of the most popular poems in America, schoolchildren were required to memorize “O Captain! My Captain” at least into the 1950s. When Walt Whitman wrote this poem, it was received quite well and is one of the few rhymed works in his canon of work. The book used to illustrate today’s offering is the newest version of the work. It is beautifully illustrated, contains excerpts from other poems, and has a child-friendly biography of both Lincoln and Whitman. It contains timelines as well. With as much attention as is taken by authors/illustrators Robert Burleigh and Sterling Hundley, perhaps “O Captain! My Captain” is still one of America’s most beloved poems.



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

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.

5 Responses to Weekly Whitman: “O Captain! My Captain”

  1. Thanks, Meg, for your beautiful post. Whitman is a justly famous poet, though controversial in his time. I’m glad his publisher has chosen to create a book that can provide context to the poem.

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