Summary of Walt Whitman’s O Captain! My Captain!

O Captain! My Captain! is a poem written by Walt Whitman on the death of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America.


Stanza 1

The first stanza depicts the celebratory mood of the speaker or the sailor as the ship has completed its tedious and long journey. It has braved the storms at sea, sailed through harsh and difficult circumstances and is now successfully approaching the port. The scene is exuberant and full of joy. It is a victorious moment for all and the people at the harbour are joyous and cheerful. They are in festive spirits, which can be figured out by their loud cries of glee and zeal.

The speaker in the poem is in an ecstatic state of mind; he calls out to the Captain of the ship to inform him that they are reaching their destination. He addresses him as “O Captain! My Captain” and shouts that their dreadful and audacious journey has finally come to an end. The ship has crossed every barrier and hurdle, that came in her way, with great vigour and fervour. He acclaims that despite their atrocious and dreadful voyage, they have achieved their reward. The speaker recalls past frightful experiences of their struggle, which have now come to an end, turning into a prize they had been longing for. He informs the Captain that as they are approaching the port, he can hear the tolls of the bell, indicating their triumph at sea. He can hear the merriment of the people who have gathered at the port to welcome them. Their eyes follow the steady vessel as they rejoice and celebrate the exhausting journey of the ship.

But all of a sudden, the speaker experiences a colossal loss when he sees the Captain lying dead on the deck and describes him as “cold and dead”. The Captain, the leader of the ship, is inanimate. The blood on the deck indicates an inauspicious happening.

Stanza 2

The speaker is grief-stricken as he sees the Captain lying cold and dead on the deck. His senses do not allow him to believe and accept the awful situation. He emphatically tells the Captain, although dead, to get up and hear the bells. He says that the bugle is being blown to honour his tiresome journey. He also tells him that the people are hurling flags as a sign of victory and have gathered at the port with bouquets and wreaths only and only for him. Not only this, but he also tries to remind the Captain of his importance among the crowd, that is eagerly waiting at the shore. They are swaying and cheering enthusiastically, oblivious to the misery that has fallen upon them.

The speaker addresses the inert and lifeless Captain as ‘father’. He tries to raise the Captain’s head by putting his arm beneath it, in an attempt to show the enthusiastic crowd on the port that their Captain is no more. He is in denial and refuses to accept the Captain’s death. He assumes that he is in a dream and is imagining the Captain fallen cold and dead.

Stanza 3

The speaker in this stanza realizes that the Captain is not responding to his pleas to get up and see the jubilant people waiting for them at the shore. His attempts to wake the Captain up are now futile. He declares that the Captain’s lips are pale and motionless, and he is now inanimate since he cannot feel the speaker’s arm beneath his head. He also declares that his pulse has stopped pulsating. The Captain is not alive.

After stating that the Captain is dead, the speaker now observes and declares that the ship has been anchored safely and smoothly. She has concluded her long voyage. The dreadful expedition is over, and the ship has reached the destination and completed her course of the horrible trip. However, the Captain is dead, and the speaker is heartbroken. Still, with a heavy heart, he sees the scene of the excited crowd, ringing the bells. He mourns his Captain’s death and feels lonely. It dawns on him that as the people are celebrating the triumphant victory of the ship, he would have to walk mournfully to the port from the deck, where his Captain’s body lies motionless, cold and dead.

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