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Critical appreciation of Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!”

Contents in the Article

O Captain! My Captain!- Critical appreciation

The Poet

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) is considered to be the greatest poet of America. He was hailed by Swami Vivekananda as a “spiritual genius”. Rabindranath Tagore said “Whitman gives me pictures!” Whitman is the poet of the body as well as of the soul.” He was born on the West Hills of Long Island, New York, to an English father, and a Dutch mother. He was the second of the nine children. His father, a carpenter and a builder of houses could not support his large family. So Walt was withdraw from school at the age of 11 and he started to work in a printing press.

He was educated at the hands of nature. He read widely and at the age of 17, he began his career as an innovative teacher. Then he turned journalism and edited many papers. At New Or-leans he saw from close quarters the viciousness of slavery. His greatest work is “Leaves of Grass” which he revised constantly, publishing the ninth edition in 1892, the year of his death. It is death. It is also called the “Death-bed edition.”

Whitman believed that poetry should be a spontaneous expression of life. His poetry was accurato-factually and emotionally. David Daiches made him popular. Now he is regarded to be the poet of America” His greatest legacy was his invention of the American free verse. His poems were written in sprawling lines with simple imageries.

The Poem

Whitman was a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States of America. Lincoln’s great achievements were the preservation of the Union and the abolition of slavery. He did not allow the Southern States to break away from the Union and led the country to although he had to pay a heavy price with his life.

Walt Whitman composed two elegies on the assassination of Lincoln-“O Captain ! My Captain” and “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed’. In America the elegy became a thing of remarkable power and beauty in the hands of Walt Whitman. These two elegies were inspired by the death of Abraham Lincoln. Both these elegies are deeply stirring because the grief depicted in them is profound and genuine. The assassination of Lincoln was a cause of intense grief. These elegies are no mere conventional poetry, but result of poignant grief lingering in the soul of the poet.

In this poem “O Captain! My Captain!” Walt Whitman presents Lincoln as a great and beloved captain. After steering the vessel, the American nation, through storm and stress to victory and glory, Lincoln now lies cold and dead on the deck. Whitman describes the greatness of Lincoln’s achievement, the colossal nature of the danger that surrounded, him the loyalty that he inspired in the hearts of the people.

Walt Whitman’s grief becomes more intense. He urges the Captain to “rise up and hear the bells” Then Whitman addresses Lincoln with a more intimate and affectionate title “dear father” There have assembled people in great numbers with garlands and bouquets on the shore. They are eager to great the Captain who now lies cold and dead on the deck. The personal note of grief becomes all the more touching when Whitman says.

“My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,

My father does not feel my arm”

Whitman again points out that Lincoln led the nation through the blackest hour. Finally, he won laurels and held the nation together at the cost of his own life. The note of rejoicing and exultation is mixed with deep sorrow. Whitman develops the poem out of the metaphor of a voyage. The ship overcame all dangers and the Captain came out victorious but he was killed. Whitman would like to have the episode of Lincoln’s assassination in a dream world. He would very much like Lincoln to live.

The country may be happy because Lincoln preserved the unity of the nation and abolished slavery. But the poet is unhappy because he was personally attached to Lincoln.

He says,

“But I, with mournful tread

Walk the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead”

These last three lines of the poem are poignant and touch our heart. These lines are remarkable for their memorable ness. Walt Whitman’s fame most surely rests on this elegy.

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