O Captain! My Captain!

“O Captain! My Captain!”

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. 

Summary of “O Captain! My Captain!”

Popularity: “O Captain! My Captain!” a renowned poem written by Walt Whitman, was one of the 18 poems written with the background of the Civil War in America.  It was first published in 1865 in a pamphlet named Sequel to Drum-Taps. This poem, having historical value, was written as a tribute to Abraham Lincoln, the American President, whom Whitman used to admire. Since then, it has gained a lot of popularity across the globe on account of its artistic merit.

“O Captain! My Captain!” as an Elegy: This poem is written in the form of an elegy meaning a funeral song. Whitman used very strong figurative language throughout the poem to express his respect and to mourn the loss of Abraham Lincoln. The expression of mourning and grief mark the center of the poem. However, what stays in the mind of the readers is the speaker’s passionate expression of his love for his dead captain.

Major Themes: The poem comprises sentiments of the speaker at the demise of his captain. The speaker admires his captain for the victory they have won together. The major theme that runs throughout the poem is the death of Abraham Lincoln at the end of the Civil War, which deprived the United States of the great president. Each stanza gives us a clue about the war. Although the fearful trip ends, bells ring, the captain is no more to enjoy the victory.

Analysis of the Literary Devices in “O Captain! My Captain!”

Literary devices serve as a tool to project hidden meanings in the text. With the help of literary devices, the authors equip their simple texts with powerful impacts on their readers. Whitman, too, has enriched this poem, using following literary devices.

  • Metaphor: There are three extended metaphors in the poem. The first extended metaphor is “Captain,” used in the first line that runs throughout the poem. Here Captain represents Abraham Lincoln who loses his life in the battle. The second metaphor is “Voyage,” which presents the Civil War. The journey of the voyage is full of tests and trials, but now the ship is nearing the port represents the timeline of the Civil War. The third metaphor, “ship” represents the United States that has undergone the Civil War.
  • Personification: Whitman has used personification to give human qualities to lifeless objects. He has personified the walk of the speaker as a “mournful tread” because he cannot live without his captain. He has also personified shores in line 21 where it is stated, “Exult, O Shores!” As if the shores are humans and they are going to blow trumpets of victory.
  • Imagery: Imagery appeals to the five senses of the readers. The poet has used visual imagery such as, “cold and dead”, “Lips are pale and still”, bleeding drops of red” and “mournful tread.” Whitman’s choice of powerful words has made the reader visualize the death of the captain.
  • Apostrophe: An apostrophe is a device used to call somebody or something from afar. Here the poet has used an apostrophe to call his dead captain. The phrase, “O Captain! My Captain!” expresses love and attachment of the speaker with his captain.
  • Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant sounds in the same lines of the poetry such as the use of /f/ in “flag is flung” and the sound of /s/ in “safe and sound.”
  • Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds such as /g/ sound in “flag is flung.”
  • Assonance: An assonance is a repetition of the vowel sounds in the same line such as the sounds of /i/ in “ship and “trip.”

Concluding the analysis, it can be said that Whitman has effectively demonstrated his love for military heroes who have sacrificed for the American glory. This effectiveness has come through the use of the devices as explained in this analysis.

Analysis of Poetic Devices in “O Captain My Captain”

Although most of the poetic devices share the same qualities with literary devices, there are some which can only be used in the poetry. The analysis of some of the poetic devices is given below.

  • Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. In this poem, there are three stanzas with each stanza having eight verses.
  • Double Quatrain: Quatrain refers to four line stanza whereas Double Quatrain refers to eight line stanza. There are eight lines in each stanza in this poem, but the first four and last four lines are embedded together with different meters.
  • Heroic Couplet: Walt Wittman has written this poem in the form of the heroic couplet, but he has broken the last two stanzas into four lines each, using the conventional meter and end rhyme.
  • Rhyme: The poem follows AABBCDED with some internal rhymes. However, the poet has not followed a specific rhyme scheme in the entire poem.
  • Scansion: It refers to a poem that does not follow a traditional or patterned meter. Although the meter is mainly iambic, there are many inconsistencies. Hence, it is a scansion in structure.
  • Refrain: The lines repeated at some distance in the poems are called refrain. In “O Captain! My Captain!” and “fallen cold and dead” used in the first and last stanza is a refrain that has built a sort of tension in the poem.
  • Repetition: There is a repetition of phrases, “fallen cold and dead” and “O Captain! My Captain!” which have created the required musical quality in the poem.

These structural devices or poetic devices have enhanced the meanings in a way that the pain and sorrows of passionate intensity have not lost their impacts on the readers.

Quotations for Usage from “O Captain! My Captain!”

  1. These lines can be used to celebrate the victory to congratulate a captain, leader, or group leader to pay tributes for his leadership qualities.

“O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done,

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won.”