Sunday, March 8, 2009

Elegy: 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.

This infamous elegy by Walt Whitman was written in 1865 in honor of President Abraham Lincoln's death. Whitman uses very strong figurative language throughout the elegy with very baroque language that gives the impression of Whitman's high respect for Lincoln. The title "O Captain! My Captain!" expresses Whitman's feelings towards the beloved president and creates a metonymy (term for one thing is applied to another and become closely associated in experience) between a captain and his ship. Addressing him as "captain"/president, that has successfully lead the "ship"/America through the fight for freedom and slavery, "The ship has weather'd every rack/ the prize we sought is won." Through the metaphor of President Lincoln guiding the ship of America, Whitman creates an allusion to his presidency, including his assassination and death. "But O heart! heart! heart!/O the bleeding drops of red/ Where on the deck my Captain lies/ Fallen cold and dead" figuratively describes the scene of utter horror when Lincoln was shot. The exclamation, "O heart! heart! heart!" expresses how much people loved the president and how many hearts were broken when Lincoln was fatally shot. The repetition of "heart!" and the exclamation point after each, shows the real emotion people felt after the assassination.

The second stanza is more of the peoples reaction after their captain is shot, "For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths- for you the shores/ a-crowding/ For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning." The flowers and people all mourning his death and "eager faces" hoping he isn't really gone forever. Then the speaker enters apostrophizes (direct address either to an abstract person or to an abstract of inanimate entity) the fallen captain, "Here Captain! dear father!/This arm beneath your head!/It is some dream that on the deck/You've fallen cold and dead." The reference to Lincoln as "father" is related to the phrase "father of our country". The speaker's depths of misery is touched on, when he pleads that the image of his captains death is "some dream."

Sadly, by the third stanza the speakers tone has changed from unbelieving to bitter understanding of his captain's death, "My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still/My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will." Shifting from the speakers visually seeing that the captains life has ended "he has no pulse", to the metaphorical ending of his ship, "The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done." The speaker enters into the aftermath stage of the captains death, while feverishly keeping his memory of triumph "at sea" and grief of his loss, alive forever. " Exult O shores, and ring O bells!/But I with mournful tread/Walk the deck my Captain lies/Fallen cold and dead."

I feel that "O Captain! My Captain!" is what an elegy truly is, in its most elegant form. Beginning with the glory of the captain/presidents career and initial trauma of his shooting. Then the shock and disbelief of the masses who've been affected by the captain throughout his life and finally ending sadly on a sad yet hopeful note. Truly remembering the captain the way he would have wanted if he hadn't died so tragically. Ending with the message that although life is short, keep the memories of those who pass and never forget the lessons they taught you.

The BEST scene in Dead Poet's Society!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwaUo_AGtpI

1 comment:

whizkidforte said...

I'm writing a conceit-elegy for the victims of the recent Air France Flight 447 crash, comparing them to the trees in a grove destroyed by a hurricane. It will be up in a few days.