Bio Walt Whitman, one of the greatest poets in American history, was born on May 31, 1819. Whitman was self-taught, reading extensively from the classics of ancient Greece, Shakespeare, and the Bible. Whitman started a long career in journalism that exposed him to the evils of his society, such as slavery and corrupt politics. Whitman’s first work, Leaves of Grass, a collection of unnamed poems, was self-printed in 1855 and would go on to become his epic masterpiece and lifework. Leaves of Grass gained popularity, attracting the attention of the great Ralph Waldo Emerson, who encouraged Whitman and his revolutionary style of free verse poetry. He later became a hospital worker during the Civil War and began to care for the wounded in Washington, D.C. Whitman’s sexuality has been an object of uncertainty, with numerous sources stating that Whitman was either homosexual or bisexual. Whitman was also known for his deism and transcendentalist philosophy. He rejected all forms of organized religion, and evaluated each group in his poetry. Whitman retired to New Jersey in 1873 to care for his dying mother, and stayed there until his own death in 1892.
O Captain! My Captain! By Walt Whitman, 1865 O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done; The ship has weathered 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 ribboned 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 anchored 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!” “O Captain! My Captain!” is an extended metaphor poem written in 1865 by Walt Whitman, inspired by the death of American president Abraham Lincoln. Walt Whitman wrote the poem shortly after Lincoln's assassination. The "ship" in the poem represents the United States of America, while its "fearful trip" is a reference to the American Civil War. The titular "Captain" is Lincoln himself. Whitman used conventional meter and rhyme scheme, unusual for Whitman, and it was the only poem anthologized during Whitman's lifetime. The rhyme scheme for the poem is AABCDEFE, GGHIJEKE, LLMNOEPE. "O Captain" became the most recited and popular of Whitman's works and, until recently, was his most anthologized poem. Whitman insisted that “O Captain!” had a significant emotional and historically necessary purpose. In 1996, Israeli songwriter Naomi Shemer translated the poem to Hebrew and wrote music for it as a tribute to Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995.
Criticism of “O Captain!” Critic Gregory Eiselein writes that “The poem makes deliberate use of traditional metaphors, picturing the Union as a ship and the president as its captain. Although the ship has weathered the storm and re-entered the harbor safe and victorious, the captain (like the recently assassinated Lincoln) is dead. Capturing the triumph and grief of the war's end, "O Captain" is a public poem for a mass audience, an elegy remembering a beloved president. “
Sources • http://www.poetry-archive.com/w/o_captain_my_captain.html • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_Captain!_My_Captain! • http://www.whitmanarchive.org/criticism/current/encyclopedia/entry_40.html • http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/126 • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walt_Whitman