O Captain! My Captain! Walt Whitman, 1819-1892

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! [5]
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; [10]
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, [15]
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; [20]
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,

Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

In honor of President’s Day, here’s a tribute to our sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln, by American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892). Although President’s Day falls on George Washington’s birthday, it would be difficult to ignore the intention behind “O Captain! My Captain!,” a poem written to honor a well-loved president and commemorate one of the most important events in United States history, the Civil War.


Written in 1865, this poem’s undertones are victorious because the Union has won the war and slavery will be abolished. Whitman, like Lincoln, was an abolitionist who supported the Union. In the first stanza, the speaker rejoices beside the poet’s hero, exclaiming, “our fearful trip is done;/ The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won” (lines 1-2). The prize is the abolition of slavery and being the winner of the war, but it does in fact come at the price of war and bloodshed, as the speaker turns to his Captain who has “Fallen cold and dead” (line 8). Although the first stanza begins with a joyous tone, it ends with the crushing realization that the speaker’s hero, his “dear father,” is dead.


The next two stanzas  a similar conflict between jubilant excitement and solemn mourning the loss of the Captain. In the second stanza, the speaker attempts to coax excitement from his captain, drawing attention to the “ribbon’d wreaths” and “shores a-crowding” in honor of his arrival (line 11). In the third stanza, the speaker realizes that his love for his Captain leads him “with mournful tread” to “(w)alk the deck (his) captain lies” while bells are ringing and citizens celebrate (22-23). While this poem carries a patriotic tone with the speaker’s love for his captain, it also highlights the sadness brought on by war, even those with victorious outcomes.

Eleanor Haeg is an English major and Creative Writing minor at Washington and Lee but hails from Minneapolis.