Monday, March 16, 2009

History Through Poetry

Though many of us relate this poem to Dead Poet's Society, it's real inspiration came from the death of Abraham Lincoln and the tremendous grief the loss caused both Whitman and the nation.

The poem uses the ship as a metaphor for the country, finally returning home from Civil War. It is victorious, the people are joyous, and then, tragically, the captain is dead.

I've always found the image of the speaker clutching the captain's head to be particularly powerful. To emphasize this, I used to read the first stanzas loudly and then practically whisper the last.

That's my take anyway....let me know your thoughts, if you're inclined.

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

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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