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Oh Captain! My Captain! Essay


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Oh Captain! My Captain!

            Just as the title appears,Oh Captain! My Captain! is a poem (elegy) written by Walt Whitman. The elegy was written back in 1865 as a way to commemorate President Abraham Lincoln’s death. It reflects and marks the end of the American Civil War. Even though the nation is celebrating victory, it also mourns the loss of President Lincoln. Compared to Walt Whitman’s other works, Oh Captain! My Captain! is more conventional writing. This is perhaps the most famous, loved and quoted poems of all Whitman’s poetry. Oh Captain! My Captain! Captured well the atmosphere of a mourning nation at the time.

The whole poem revolves around President Lincoln, who, in this case, is the Captain. Whitman addresses President Lincoln as “My Captain”, hinting at his close relationship with the President. He compares the President to a Ship’s Captain; One who spearheads the ship at sea. It is interesting to note that Whitman does not refer to President Lincoln as “our Captain” but rather “My Captain” (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2021). Walt Whitman implies that the Captain is his Captain, showing that he had a very close relationship with the President.

            Oh Captain! My Captain! is a poem filled with melancholy and celebration as well. The poem captures the trauma and pain of losses sustained after the war and the impossibility of separating victory from the cost of human lives. Despite the nation celebrating, there are still lingering thoughts of the loss of loved ones in the name of the triumph. Walt Whitman employs the juxtaposition style to show the audience the correlation between pain and success (Poets.org – Academy of American Poets, n.d.). Whitman pats President Lincoln for being an excellent Captain who has taken charge of “every whack” (storm) and has brought victory to the land.

Whitman also uses “You” numerous times in Oh Captain! My Captain! to show his appreciation for the sacrifices the “Captain” made for the nation to enjoy the triumph. Among the unique themes of the poem are; isolation and grief. The two seem to walk hand in hand throughout the poem. Whitman shows how people are privately grieving while they publicly celebrate. He acknowledges that the loss of President Lincoln is a big hit to the United States of America.

In his poem Oh Captain! My Captain! Whitman strongly implies that the United States of America is a political project that must surpass one person’s life even though every life is vital. Whitman also brings to light perhaps what can be considered America’s most horrendous political assassinations to date and how it affected its citizens. The poem has remained relevant to date, and it shall continue to be a commemoration of President Abraham Lincoln and the sacrifices he made for the United States.


Poets.org – Academy of American Poets. (n.d.). O Captain! My Captain! Academy of American Poets. Retrieved May 4, 2021, from https://poets.org/poem/o-captain-my-captain?page=5

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2021). O Captain! My Captain! | poem by Whitman. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/O-Captain-My-Captain

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