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O Captain! My Captain!- Walt Whitman- Poem Summary

Updated: Jul 21, 2023


The Poem, O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman is a metaphorical poem that expresses the grief for the death of Abraham Lincoln, the then U.S. President, written in 1865. It has three stanzas. This poem is one of the four poems that Whitman has written to mourn his death. The other three works are When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, Hush'd be the Camps To-day, and This Dust was Once the Man. This poem is unique when compared to all other Whitman's poems because it has a rhyming pattern in it and has a narrator. It is a well-known fact that Whitman wrote this poem after five days after the end of the American Civil War (1861- 1865) Metaphor-Captain- Abraham LincolnShip- Union's cause victory- Union's Victory in the Civil War.


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.

O Captain! My Captain! Poem Summary:

The narrator in the poem addresses the Captain and says that the ship that they are sailing has won and that the victory is theirs. They are now near the port and the bells are heard as a symbol of joy, it was ringed by the people in the land waiting for the Captain. But the Captain is lying dead on the deck; his body is cold and dead.

It is not that the narrator does not know the Captain is dead, he does, yet he tries to wake him up, he just wishes that it is a dream. He asks the Captain to raise and hear the joyful sound of the bells that celebrate their victory. He says that all the events, all the arrangements are for him, the Captain and so he insists to wake up as soon as possible. But he remains cold and dead on the deck of the ship.

In the final stanza, the narrator accepts the fact that his Captain is dead and so he mourns out loud saying, "My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still, My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will". Now that the ship is safe in the homeland, he walks with great grief inside him, he walks away from the deck through the people who were celebrating by ringing the bells louder, adding glory to the shores.

~ Literpretation Education

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