Walt Whitman (O, Captain, My Captain)

Essay by EnchantedMelody May 2004

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" O, Captain! My Captain? " is one of Whitman's famous poems. It is an elegy on the death of Abraham Lincoln, the president of the U.S.A. He was Whitman's hero and most beloved leader. He was kind, gentle, sympathetic yet brave and determined. He was too full of the milk of human kindness that he couldn't endure the bad condition of the Negro-slaves in the southern states. He decided to abate slavery and set the Negroes free . Of course, the southern states opposed this decision and decided to break away from the northern states. Lincoln found himself in a very hard situation but he didn't accept this and decided to fight a bloody civil war. He succeeded in his war and was able to save his country and keep it united. However, he wasn't given time to enjoy his victory for after less than a year, he was assassinated by an actor.

The whole states mourned him. For Whitman the death of his hero grieved him. He felt it was a personal loss. His grief was so intense that he wrote four elegies on the death of the president in which Whitman found the symbol for the suffering and the death of so many soldiers he had witnessed.

" O, Captain! My Captain? " sounds the cry of the poet's broken heart over his hero's death. A cry and a grief that despite of their intensity are not expressed directly. Instead, they are expressed through the use of symbols and metaphor on which the poem is entirely based.

Whitman symbolizes the United States as a ship and Abraham Lincoln is its captain. While the civil war fought under Lincoln leadership is symbolized as a "fearful trip" a dangerous voyage. Putting these symbols in mind, it will be...