Patriotism in O Captain! my Captain! (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.


The idea of patriotism is a recurring theme in Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! my Captain!”. Known as the Bard of Democracy, Whitman was heavily influenced by patriotism from an early age, mostly due to his parents; his brothers were named after famous American heroes such as George Washington and Thomas Jeffrey. This emphasis on nationalism led him to become one of America’s greatest and foremost poets. Due to these factors, Whitman inevitably developed strong feelings of admiration and loyalty to the President at that time, Abraham Lincoln. Therefore, Whitman’s famous poem, “O Captain! my Captain!” was written to honour Lincoln’s accomplishments and as a farewell to his hero.

O Captain! my Captain is an extended metaphor itself, displaying the impact that the death of Lincoln had on both Whitman and America. Throughout the poem, there is a re-occurrence of the word ‘Captain’ who has supposedly returned from a dangerous journey, only to die in the end. This represents Abraham Lincoln, who led his country through the ‘fearful trip’, which was the American Civil War, the bloodiest war in American history. It was a well-known fact that Whitman absolutely abhorred slavery after witnessing the brutality of the practice first-hand; Lincoln’s decision to lead the Union to victory and abolish slavery further fueled Whitman’s admiration for the President. Being a patriot himself, Whitman only wished the best for his beloved country, and saw the eradication of slavery as the only way to move forward in a positive manner.

One of the most direct references to the death and mourning of the ‘Captain’ or Abraham Lincoln is found in line 10 of the poem, “Rise up-for you the flag is flung-for you the bugle trills”. The American flag one of the most recognized symbols of patriotism, as it characterizes everything that Americans stand for. It represents unity as a country and the patriotic ideals and values of the country as a whole. The reference to the bugle gives the poem a militaristic tone, since bugles are used in military funerals; it also describes the country’s willingness to fight for the greater good under Lincoln’s leadership.

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