Oh Walt Whitman! This famous poem was popularised by the notorious film “Dead Poets Society”, in concrete by the literature teacher, Mr. Keating (Robin Williams). This first lines of the poem were a symbol in the film, but we desire to know more, not just the first verse. For that reason, today I’m giving an overview and analysis of the full poem, and of the life of its already mentioned author, Walt Whitman.
Photograph taken by Brandy Handy
Walt Whitman (WW) was born in New York in 1819 and dead in New Jersey in 1892. He was a writer, a journalist and a poet between many more occupations. He still is one of the most influential writers in the U.S. and he is considered to be the father of the free verse. His more famous work is Leaves of Grass, published in 1855, where he included the poem that we are going to talk about.
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.
This ode has constant metaphors, so we could even talk of an allegory. The Captain is Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. ex-president that freed the slaves. The whole poem has a solemn tone since Whitman complains and is hurt because of Lincoln’s death. And the ex-president is a Captain because the ship he is commanding is the United States. However, before the captain’s death (“My father does not feel my arm”), he has left the U.S. in a good situation (“The ship is anchor’d safe and sound”). WW is so bereaved that he repeats five times the word “heart”, to emphasize were does all the pain come from, also reiterating the tremendous pain of the author. Finally, this idea is confirmed by the repetition at the end of each strophe “Fallen cold and dead”.
I hope that now you understand better this little poem, and beginning by this one, start to give poetry the value that it has. Read you soon!