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                Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

                O CAPTAIN! MY CAPTAIN!

    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.


Abraham Lincoln was shot April 14, 1865 and died early April 15, 1865. As
recounted by Sandburg (1939), over seven million people observed his funeral
train as it traveled the seventeen hundred miles from Washington D.C. to
Springfield, Illinois from April 21st to May 3rd. He was buried May 4th, 1865.

Sandburg reports that as part of the mourning: 'An epidemic of verse seized
thousands. They sent their rhymed lines to the New York Herald, which
publicly notified them that if it were all printed there would be no space for
news, wherefore none at all would be printed. The Chicago Tribune editorially
notified them that it "suffered" from this "severe attack of poetry," that three
days brought one hundred and sixty pieces beginning either "Toll, toll, ye
mourning bells" or "Mourn, mourn, ye tolling bells."' (pgs. 400-401)

Whitman's O Captain! My Captain! was published on November 4, 1865 in
the Saturday Press. Sandburg describes the poem saying: 'No music more
strange and mystical than that of poet Walt Whitman followed the hovering
blue-smoke mist of Lincoln's death... For Whitman, Lincoln was a great voice
and a sublime doer in the field of democracy.' (pgs.384-385)   Sandburg also
makes it clear that Whitman was far from alone in this assessment of his hero:
'Out of the smoke and stench, out of the music and violet dreams of the war,
Lincoln stood perhaps taller than any other of the many great heroes. This was
in the mind of many. None threw a longer shadow than he. And to him, the
great hero was the People. He could not say too often that he was merely their
instrument.' (pg. 387)

O Captain! My Captain! can be found in the section Memories of President

  • Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass, The "Death-Bed" Edition. New York: The
    Modern Library, 2001.

    Sandburg's account of the aftermath of Lincoln's assassination can be found in:

  • Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln: The War Years. Volume Four. New
    York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1939.