Friday, April 15, 2011

National Poetry Month meets Civil War Saturday - O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman

Since April is National Poetry Month and this past week marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, I thought I would pay homage to both. 

Whitman wrote O Captain! My Captain about the death of Abraham Lincoln out of admiration for the president. It was first published in 1865 in a volume called When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, but Whitman revised it later for a new edition of Leaves of Grass. Later, he said he was ashamed of this poem because of its conventional rhyme and meter.

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weathered 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 ribboned 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 anchored 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.

When I was in the 8th grade, we studied the Civil War and each student had to memorize something about it and present it to the class. I learned this poem for it and have never forgotten it. Others may remember this poem from the film the Dead Poets Society with Robin Williams.


  1. Ah! My entire 8th grade class had to memorize this for English class. I remember not being so happy about the task and I believe ultimately stumbling my way through it in front the class.

    We also had to memorize Robert Frost's the Road Not Taken. I appreciated that one much better and still remember it :) O Captain! My Captain not so much.

    Oh to be 13 again...

  2. Thanks for sharing this poem on Civil War Saturday. I hope you will think about adding your full link to this post to my Mr. Linky showing people all the poetry around the blogs for National Poetry Month. You can find the Mr. Linky here:

    If you want, you can use my National Poetry Month Blog tour button as well.

    I just adore Walt Whitman.