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O Captain! My Captain!

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Whitman's notes for a revision of "O Captain! My Captain!"
Whitman's lecture on Lincoln, invitation, 1886

"O Captain! My Captain!" is an extended metaphor poem written in 1865 by Walt Whitman, about the death of American president Abraham Lincoln. The poem was first published in the pamphlet Sequel to Drum-Taps which assembled 18 poems regarding the American Civil War, including another Lincoln elegy, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd". It was included in Whitman's comprehensive collection Leaves of Grass beginning with its fourth edition published in 1867. The poem emphasizes or shows grief and sorrow.


An 1887 handwritten draft of Whitman's 1865 poem "O Captain! My Captain!

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.


Walt Whitman composed the poem "O Captain! My Captain!" after Abraham Lincoln's assassination in 1865. The poem is classified as an elegy or mourning poem, and was written to honor Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States. Walt Whitman was born in 1819 and died in 1892, and the American Civil War was the central event of his life. Whitman was a staunch Unionist during the Civil War. He was initially indifferent to Lincoln, but as the war pressed on, Whitman came to love the president, though the two men never met.[1]

"O Captain! My Captain!" became one of Whitman's most famous poems, one that he would read at the end of his famous lecture about the Lincoln assassination. Whitman became so identified with the poem that late in life he remarked, "Damn My Captain...I'm almost sorry I ever wrote the poem."[2]

In popular culture[edit]

Walter Huston recited the poem, with special musical underscoring by Victor Young, on a 1947 Decca Records album titled Our Common Heritage. The recording was rebroadcast as part of a 1954 Memorial Day edition of the WNBC poetry radio program Anthology.

A musical version of the poem appears on Carolyn Hester's 1965 live album At Town Hall.[3]

After actor Robin Williams' death in August 2014, fans of his work used social media to pay tribute to him with photo and video reenactments of the Dead Poets Society "O Captain! My Captain!" scene.[4][5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Peck, Garrett (2015). Walt Whitman in Washington, D.C.: The Civil War and America's Great Poet. Charleston, SC: The History Press. p. 85. ISBN 978-1626199736.
  2. ^ Peck 2015, p. 120.
  3. ^ Planer, Lindsay. Carolyn Hester At Town Hall at AllMusic. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
  4. ^ Szathmary, Zoe (12 August 2014). "'#O Captain, My Captain': Robin Williams' fans take over social media with tributes and memorials dedicated to the legendary comic". Daily Mail. Retrieved 2014-11-15.
  5. ^ Idato, Michael (14 August 2014). "Robin Williams death: Jimmy Fallon fights tears, pays tribute with 'Oh Captain, My Captain'". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2014-11-15.

External links[edit]