My Captain! O Captain! Here Captain! This arm beneath your head!
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Walt Whitman: Poems
The Full Text of “O Captain! My Captain!”
My Captain! Emphasizing grief and sorrow, the poem was first published in the pamphlet Sequel to Drum-Taps alongside another Lincoln elegy —" When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd "—and 16 other poems by Whitman regarding the American Civil War. It was later included in Whitman's comprehensive collection Leaves of Grass , beginning with its fourth edition published in O Captain! Walt Whitman composed "O Captain! Written to honor Lincoln, the poem has been classified as an elegy , or mourning poem. Born in and died in , the American Civil War was the central event of Whitman's life, during which he was a staunch Unionist. Though initially indifferent to Lincoln, Whitman came to love the president as the war pressed on; however, the two men never met. 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.
The poem is an elegy to the speaker's recently deceased Captain , at once celebrating the safe and successful return of their ship and mourning the loss of its great leader. In the first stanza, the speaker expresses his relief that the ship has reached its home port at last and describes hearing people cheering. Despite the celebrations on land and the successful voyage, the speaker reveals that his Captain's dead body is lying on the deck. In the second stanza, the speaker implores the Captain to "rise up and hear the bells," wishing the dead man could witness the elation. Everyone adored the captain, and the speaker admits that his death feels like a horrible dream. In the final stanza, the speaker juxtaposes his feelings of mourning and pride. Whitman wrote this poem shortly after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
O Captain! This arm beneath your head! O how can it be that the ground itself does not sicken? How can you be alive you growths of spring? How can you furnish health you blood of herbs, roots, orchards, grain? Are they not continually putting distemper'd corpses within you? Is not every continent work'd over and over with sour dead?