O Captain! My Captain! – by Walt Whitman

This poem I memorized when I was ten or eleven years old, but I read it literally. It wasn’t until I was older and more mature that I grasped its real meaning and significance. Walt Whitman wrote this poem upon the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The ship was the Union – the Ship of State – which had just weathered the Civil War. Lincoln was shot on April 14, and died on April 15, 1865, just six days after the war ended on April 9, 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 or 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.

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