Gateway to the Classics: Historic Poems and Ballads by Rupert S. Holland
Historic Poems and Ballads by  Rupert S. Holland

O Captain! My Captain!

O N April 9, 1865, General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, and practically brought the Civil War to an end. Five days later, on April 14, 1865, President Lincoln was shot in a theatre in Washington, and died the next day. His assassination was part of a conspiracy, the intention being to kill the President and several of the leading members of his Cabinet; and Secretary of State Seward was wounded on the same evening, but not seriously. The rejoicing at the conclusion of the long war was at once overshadowed by the death of the great man who had overcome such tremendous difficulties and saved the Union. In the space of his term as President, Abraham Lincoln had won the loyal devotion of almost all of his fellow citizens, and the tragedy of his assassination made them realize suddenly how much they had trusted to his wise judgment to heal the wounds of war. The nation mourned for Lincoln as for no one else. The greatness of his patriotism had been understood by all.

Walt Whitman's poem was one of the finest expressions of the common sorrow at the loss of a captain who had brought his ship at last to port, only to fall on the deck at the moment of victory.

O Captain! My Captain!

by Walt Whitman

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.

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