The poem "O Captain! My Captain!" by Walt Whitman is an elegy to the deceased captain by the speaker. The ship is returning to its abode safely and successfully. It is received with great cheer by the people, and the entire return of the vessel is being celebrated. However, the captain is unable to witness all the hustle as he is lying dead. The speaker laments the fact that in spite of his significant contribution to the triumphant return of the ship, the captain is lying powerless without being able to see all the joy he has led to. The poem is the lamentation of the speaker who wishes the captain could have been alive to see people rejoicing and the elation that is happening around him. The speaker, along with everyone other, adore the captain and his death was like a horrible dream. Despite the mourning for the late captain, the speaker also feel pride for his achievement and the safe return of the ship from its voyage, thereby crediting all the accomplishment to his guidance. The ship and the people in it has gained victory due to his sheer courage and sacrifice.
This particular poem by Walt Whitman is written in the honor of the assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, which is an extended metaphor, intended to commemorate his life and work. He was an eminent personality in the history of America as he had played a great role in the attainment of independence.
He was the 16th President of the United States of America and did a lot for the country. His significant contribution to the Civil War which ended the slavery system supported by the Confederates. His famous Thirteenth Amendment is notable as it made the slavery unconstitutional. He also introduced important domestic legislations like the Homestead Acts, The Pacific Rail Road Act of 1862 and the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862. In the 1864 he again contested for the presidential seat and won it by defeating the Confederates led by Robert Lee. However, within 5 days of his Presidential rule, he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. His death cause tremendous upheaval as he was regarded as the liberator of slaves. He was considered as the Messiah. Moreover, his accomplishment throughout his life and his work that has touched the lives of millions is celebrated still now. He is also considered as the savior of Union and a true martyr who got assassinated for a true cause. His personal characteristics were also held in high regard that gained him millions of followers. His speeches which were reconciliatory in nature has influenced many people from all around the world. All these characteristics he possessed and his contribution to Civil War has led to the immense love and respect by people.
This poem is a tribute to the life and his massive contribution to the United States for his humanitarian nature. He is being addressed as "O Captain! My Captain!" by Walt Whitman as he felt heartfelt respect for the President. In the poem, the ship is referred to the war withered nation which was the result of the Civil War. He also referred “Prize won” in the poem which represented the salvaged Union. The poet in his poem intended to capture the nation’s sense of remorse and despair followed by the triumph in the war. It provided relief to the countrymen, so it is the time for celebration. The time marked by its turmoil due to the Civil War and the various aftermaths. However, with the visionary role of Lincoln, the nation got relief. Under the presidential ship of Lincoln, many wars were fought including, the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Fredericksburg, the Battle of Chancellorsville, the Battle of Shiloh, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the Battle of Chickamauga. All these wars caused many casualties that crossed 10000, and a huge loss of properties. The economic condition was also depleted and the country was facing severe crisis. However, Abraham Lincoln succeeded in giving the country its desired object – the ending of the slavery. Whitman’s poetry also explores a variety of themes for instance the self versus the other. It also puts an emphasis on the individual. The balance of despair and remorse with that of the rejoice followed by the victory has been given prior importance in the verses of the poem. The Civil War has led to the claiming of many lives, however, it has reunified the Union. He also thought that he should also celebrate his work that has led to the victory that would commemorate the life of the martyr.
One of the most significant aspects about the poem of Whitman is his emotional reaction on the death of Lincoln and this has set him apart from the other crowds who were rejoicing the victory. He tried to reconcile with his thoughts and console his bereaved heart by celebrating the victory of the entire cause.
On analyzing the structure of the poem, it should be noted that it is one of the ground breaking poem by the poet because he used the rhyming meters here which is unusual of him. He is always known for his free verses, and this rhyming poem with a scheme of AABBCDED. He used this scheme which accentuated the elegy nature of the poem. Moreover, the regular meter is also reminiscent of soldiers marching on the battlefield which absolutely fits the commemorative nature of the poem given to the Civil War.
In reference to the above analysis, it can be said that the poem is an important poem since it is a tribute given to the President Abraham Lincoln. It celebrates the martyrdom of the poet, and also his emotions towards the great soul. The grief he felt for the deceased person touches the heart of many and reflects his love for the great personality. Therefore, "O Captain! My Captain!" by Walt Whitman essentially celebrates the life of Abraham Lincoln in a poetic manner.