O Captain! My Captain!

Poem by Walt Whitman by Landri Lind


The speaker of the poem is calling to the Captain of the ship saying that their fearful trip is done. They have accomplished what they set out to achieve and the speaker sees the port and hears all of the people cheering for their return. The speaker then sees drops of red and goes up to the deck to find his captain laying there dead.

The speaker calls for the Captain to wake up because there are people waiting at the dock to celebrate the Captain and his voyage. The speaker then calls the Captain his father. The speaker describes how he is laying, with his arm underneath his head, and he calls his father's death a dream.

The speaker says the Captain does not answer the speakers call for him to wake up. The Captain's lips are said to be pale and still. The speaker grabs his arm, but the Captain cannot feel it. Their voyage is now complete because they have docked at the pier, but the speaker walks off the ship without the speakers father because he lies on the dock dead.


This narrative poem tells a the story of a sailor who is excited about the completion his voyage, the voyage representing the Civil War. He, assuming the speaker is a he because women were not allowed to be sailors during this time, calls to his captain, Abraham Lincoln, out of excitement that he sees the dock and the port and can hear the people cheering for him and the rest of the crew and, along with his excitement, he goes to see the captain, who later the reader discovers, is dead. He is referenced to as the father because Lincoln was seen as the father of America. The mood of this poem is very grim, much like a mourning poem, which the author could have intentionally done because Whitman was mourning something in his life. The poem starts out very joyful with the speaker calling to the captain, who this poem is centered around, because of the completion of their voyage, but is soon rapidly turned from a happy story into a dark, desperate and helpless poem, resembling the speakers feelings.


In this poem, there are three stanzas with eight lines in each, the first four lines are longer in length, with as many as twelve words, and the last four only have as much as seven words. Every last line in each stanza says "..fallen cold and dead" with the third to last line rhyming with the last line. This is the only structural rhyming pattern in the poem. In the first stanza, the rhyme scheme is a, a, b, c, d, e, f, e. In the second stanza, the rhyme scheme is a, b, c, d, e, f, g, f. The last stanza's rhyme scheme is a, a, b, b, c, d, e, d. The story opens with the speakers excitement of getting back home after their battle has been won and, within the last stanza, the story circles back around to that place, but with a feeling of remorse because the speaker and the reader both find out about the captain's death.


This speaker uses more formal language. It also seems to be an older form of English, suggesting the time period be in the nineteenth century. The speaker uses a lot of imagery throughout the story. When the speaker first talks about seeing the people cheering for their return and how the speaker talks about the excitement in their eyes. There is also imagery when the speaker sees drops of blood, causing the speaker to go on the deck to see the captain. When the speaker sees the captain lying there dead, there is a very strong use of imagery describing how the captain looks when he is found laying dead on the deck. He is described to have pale and still lips and is unresponsive when the speaker calls for him to wake up.

Musical Devices

The rhyme scheme is very irregular, but the third to last line and the last line always rhyme in each stanza. There is definitely some rhythmic flow to when this poem is read out loud and is very satisfying to the ear. Since there is not a big rhyme pattern, when there are rhymes in this poem, this grabs the listener or reader's attention and keeps them intrigued. Also, throughout the poem, there are subtle hints of alliterations, but they are not very noticeable. They stick out when the poem is read out loud and also grab the listeners attention because of how smoothly and fluid the words sound together.
O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman (read by Tom O'Bedlam)

Historical Context

Walt Whitman wrote this poem in honor of Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Whitman was very influenced with Lincoln and saw him as a very big inspiration. When the speaker references the voyage, Whitman is referring to the American Civil War and how it is so close to the end, it is possible to hear everyone cheering for Lincoln because of what he has accomplished. When the speaker finds the captain, who would be Abraham Lincoln who could be thought of as the father of America, he has been assassinated and the speaker is devastated. They had almost completed their dangerous voyage, the Civil War, and were going to celebrate, but the captain didn't make it in time.


"American Civil War." History.com. A&E Television Networks. Web. 8 Mar. 2015. <http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war>.

"Oh Captain, My Captain! Why Are You Abandoning Ship?" John R Childress Rethinking. 31 Dec. 2014. Web. 9 Mar. 2015. <http://blog.johnrchildress.com/2014/12/31/oh-captain-my-captain-why-are-you-abandoning-ship/>.

"Walt Whitman." Poets.org. Academy of American Poets. Web. 9 Mar. 2015. <http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/walt-whitman>.