Even those who aren’t familiar with Walt Whitman’s poems may recognise ‘O Captain! My Captain!’, thanks to its use in the 1989 Robin Williams film Dead Poets Society. Like another of Whitman’s poems, ‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d’, ‘O Captain! My Captain!’ was written in the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s death in 1865, and is slightly different from much of Whitman’s best-known poetry in that it has a more regular rhyme scheme. The poem became among his best-known, to the extent that Whitman almost regretted writing it later.
O Captain! My Captain!
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.
If you enjoyed ‘O Captain! My Captain!’, you might also like Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’.
Whitman has always been a favorite – and it was nice to read his words again since it’s been a while. Thanks so much for sharing!
Great film, great poem.
That always makes me think of Dead Poets Society! I was 14, which is quite an obsessive age, in 1989, and everyone, girls and boys alike, got obsessed with that film. Great poem.
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Regrets ah — how many musicians and poets have regretted a famous work that overshadows all else they touch.