Saturday, April 6, 2013

Today's Poem: Oh Captain! My Captain!

Today I feature a Walt Whitman poem whose opening exclamation was made famous (at least to people of my generation) by the wonderful and wonderfully sad movie Dead Poets’ Society. It appears in his famous collection Leaves of Grass in a section called “Memories of President Lincoln,” and it’s a great example of metaphor.

The video on this one isn’t exactly thrilling, made almost entirely of bits of video I shot during my trip to the ACES 2013 conference in St. Louis. But at least there’s something the look at.

(I never did find out why the flags were flying at half-staff in Illinois. Could it have been the death of much-beloved Chicagoite Roger Ebert?)

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 hung — for you the bugle trills,
English: Walt Whitman. Library of Congress des...
Walt Whitman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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 the 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.

The last poem in the “Memories of President Lincoln” section is short and sweet and quite suitable for an epitaph or cenotaph. Consider it a bonus poem for being a day late getting this one posted.

This Dust Was Once the Man

This dust was once the man,
Gentle, plain, just, and resolute, under whose cautious hand
Against the foulest crime in history known in any land or age
Was saved the Union of these States.
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