O Captain! My Captain! (a poem by Walt Whitman)

Over a decade ago, and when I was still fairly new to reading and writing poetry, I bought Walt Whitman’s final edition of Leaves of Grass, which contains his full life’s work. It is still one of the most cherished books on my shelf. Though to be honest, I found some of it a little difficult to read at the time and I didn’t have a lot of patience with his longer pieces. A number of his poems do go on for pages; one, as many as sixteen. I have grown a deep appreciation for his work over the years. His wording has a lovely, romantic quality and I find myself having to go back and re-read over the lines to figure out what it was that he did with the words that gave them such a melodious quality. I know it felt musical to read, but it isn’t always readily apparent as to why. I love when writing has that effect! Whitman has some beautiful pieces that stand on their own, but what most shines through in everything he writes is the goodness of his spirit; his endless love for nature and humanity and his desire for love and peace and goodness to prevail.

I am sure that many people with any appreciation for poetry are already familiar with this poem, but I wanted to share a poem by Walt Whitman today, then begin using themes next week. This poem just happens to be my favorite of all his work. I had heard the poem, O Captain! My Captain! (written to honor President Lincoln after his assassination) on at least one occasion before I read it again in Leaves of Grass, and I have enjoyed reading it silently, to myself on several occasions since. Just recently, I have begun to read poems aloud, if I am alone with the opportunity. A few days ago, I read this poem aloud, for the first time. The sorrow in his writing is so powerful, I found myself moved to tears; choking up and barely able to get the words out. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say it is one of the most moving poems I have ever read. I do hope that you will enjoy it just as much!

Thanks for reading!

-B.

 

O Captain! My Captain! (a poem by Walt Whitman)


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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