Exploring Themes of “O Captain! My Captain”

Exploring Themes of “O Captain! My Captain”

Walt Whitman was an exciting poet who lived between the years of 1819-1892. Whitman attended a public school in Brooklyn for six years before he began labor work at age eleven, and quit his formal education. Whitman’s most famous work is Leaves of Grass, which is a volume of twelve poems. He began writing this compendium of poems, and he didn’t publish the collection of poems until 1855. Whitman is considered a true American poet because he believes an ideal poet is one whose “spirit responds to his country’s spirit” (Aubrey 2086). The true American poet must take on both the old and new ideas of poetry. Whitman wrote many great poems, including “O Captain! My Captain.” This is one of four poems in “Memories of President Lincoln” a section in Whitman’s collection of poems, Leaves of Grass. In “O Captain! My Captain,” Walt Whitman examines many different themes including loyalty, coming of age, and death. Walt Whitman explores the theme of loyalty throughout “O Captain! My Captain.” In this poem, Whitman shows an amazing example of loyalty by the difficulties that Lincoln and Whitman both went through and yet neither crashed nor gave up. In the poem, Whitman pays tribute to Lincoln ands “shows more fierce loyalty than could ever be expected from actual ship’s crew or actual sons; it is loyalty that does show itself sometimes in political followers” (“O Captain!” 148). One commentary states, “The sort of loyalty described in this poem does not come from observing the world passively: it grows out dealing with one disappointment after another and finally finding one’s ideal turned into reality” (O Captain! 149). Loyalty is also portrayed in “O Captain! My Captain” by the amazing leadership skills Lincoln shows throughout his life and his term of presidency. Hochman addresses Whitman’s desire to build national solidarity: The transition from totalizing self that attempts to me…


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