Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"O Captain! My Captain!" Essay

O Captain! My Captain! Essay

O Captain! My Captain! 
“The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it,” – this is one of the most famous phases of Walt Whitman, the outstanding American poet. These words fully apply to Whitman himself, as he was the true patriot of his country, sincerely loving America and devoting many works to it. Walt Whitman was born in 1819 on Long Island, and his interest in literature was discovered rather early. However, he tried himself in many different professions, working as a clerk, a teacher, a journalist, a compositor, an editor, a publisher, and even as a nurse during the Civil War. At the same time Whitman was writing poems and essays. His works gained popularity and acceptance due to unique authentic style and context of the author. Walt Whitman combined the best features of transcendentalism and realism, the literary styles of the period, in order to create the beautiful but simple masterpieces. Oftentimes called the father of free verse, Whitman made a huge impact on development of American literature. He is considered the first real poet of American democracy, a true patriot of his land, as he was always very straight and open in his poems. Using sometimes unusual symbols and images, the poet created an art of historical significance.

“O Captain! My Captain!” is one of the most famous poems of Walt Whitman. This work was created after assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Being the major moment of the Civil War, this event caused a significant impact on society. Walt Whitman was impressed soundly with Lincoln’s murderer, and the poem “O Captain! My Captain!” was written as a response to it, becoming one of the hundreds songs and poems devoted to this event. The four yeas of Civil War Whitman spent in Washington, working as a volunteer, and Abraham Lincoln was a person he admired most of all. The poet considered Lincoln as an embodiment of courage, dignity, and braveness. Like many other American citizens, Whitman saw the President Lincoln as a personification of American democracy, freedom, and patriotism. That is why the poet was impressed soundly with this death, and he expressed his feelings just like every artist would – through his art. The poem “O Captain! My Captain!” was written in the non-standard manner for Whitman, becoming his most conventional writing. In this three-stanza work the author grieves about Abraham Lincoln’s death, expressing the sorrow of entire nation.

The poem is about the brave captain of the ship that came home with victory. The ship represents the United States of America, while the captain is the President Abraham Lincoln. The ship has finished its dangerous journey and returns to peaceful port, which implies the end of Civil War. The people on the shore meet the winner, celebrating the victory, while the speaker finds the captain lying dead on the deck. The speaker mourns the loss of leader, at the same time feeling very happy for the ship’s victory. It is obvious that the captain lead the ship through every milestone of its difficult dangerous trip, taking the right decisions in crucial moments, supporting the team, and heading to the victory. The brave captain reached his goal – the ship is back home as a winner. However, he had to give his life for this victory in order to bring peace to his people. The image in this poem is obvious – at the end of Civil War, the fair and brave leader, the “captain” of the United States Abraham Lincoln dies.

The language of the poem “O Captain! My Captain!” is very simple and beautiful. Walt Whitman uses a wide range of literary techniques to portray the image of a captain and his ship. He expresses various emotions, starting from joy: “O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done; The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won…” From the beginning of the poem Whitman makes the reader feel excitement and happiness using appropriate words and images – bells ringing, public exulting, peaceful port. However, the refrain is less joyful – the narrator looks at the deck and sees the captain dead. The words in the poem are changed accordingly – like “the bleeding drops of red…” or “he has no pulse no will…”. The author emphasizes the ambivalent feeling in the poem, expressing both excitement of the victory and grief of the captain’s death. Whitman finishes every stanza with repetitive line “fallen cold and dead…” in order to pay the readers’ attention to the significance of loss and tragedy.

“O Captain! My Captain!” is the only poem of Walt Whitman that was anthologized during his lifetime. This masterpiece is considered the best work of author, due to the talented language of Walt Whitman, the father of American democracy poetry.

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