Symbolism In Walt Whitman's 'O Captain ! My Captain !'

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Hunter Ratliff
English 102
Mrs. Witt
12 February 14
"O Lincoln! My Lincoln!"

In Walt Whitman’s “O captain! My captain!” the poet is trying to portray to the reader his respect and adoration for Abraham Lincoln, and the despair of his death. Whitman uses metaphors and symbolism throughout that tie to his life and his feelings as well as the poem. Lincoln was idolized in Walt’s eyes. In the poem he refers to him as “Father” because he is the father of his nation. The writer was very good at incorporating subtle symbolism but at the same making his meaning crystal clear to the reader.
This poem is an extended metaphor; the fallen captain the writer mentions is Abraham Lincoln. That being said Lincoln is the captain who has “fallen cold and dead”, “On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theatre in Washington by John Wilkes Booth, an actor, who somehow thought he was helping the South. The opposite was the result, for with Lincoln's death, the possibility of peace with magnanimity died” (Freidel,Sidey). Whitman speaks of a “fearful trip,” and by this he means the civil war. Lincoln and Whitman both thought that the preservation of the union was a supreme reason for fighting the war, in fact Whitman served as a volunteer nurse in army hospitals during the American Civil War. When he says “the prize we sought is won” he is actually referring to the civil war being won and the union now preserved.
In the first line he says, “O captain! my Captain! Our fearful trip is done” (Whitman 945). This translates to, o Lincoln, my Lincoln, our civil war is done. The reading starts off as celebration but tragically ends in his death. A victory was gained but at a price, the death of Lincoln. All three stanzas begi...

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...r you the flag is flung…..” what’s happening in these two lines is that the man still can’t believe that the “Captain” is dead so he tries nudging him to get up. Then he says “For you they call, swaying mass, their eager faces turning...” now he’s trying to convince the “captain” to wake up and greet everyone ashore, but he won’t because; the captain has “fallen cold and dead.”
Finally, in the last stanza it starts off with “My captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still, my father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse, nor will.” (Whitman 945). Then it said “The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done, from fearful trip, the victor ship comes in with object won.” This means that right when the fearful trip was over he comes to terms with Lincoln’s death. Letting us never forget that nothing ever comes without some degree of sacrifice.
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