Friday, August 05, 2005

O Captain! My Captain!

by Walt Whitman

I.
O captain! my captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the stead 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.

II.
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 ribboned wreaths, for you the shores a-crowding:
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning.
O captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck
You've fallen cold and dead.

III.
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 anchored 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 silent tread,
Walk the spot my captain lies
Fallen cold and dead.

* * *

This is the poem I should have posted in honor of Pope John Paul II, except that I didn't think of it back in April. Still, this poem is in honor of him.

This is one of the few poems of Walt Whitman that I can bear at all. I dislike his usual lack of structure and rhyme. This poem shows, however, that he could rhyme if he wanted to. I wish he had tried it more often, because he managed it without making it sound stilted, like so many poets do.

He also uses some nice rhythmic effects: my favorite being, "O heart! heart! heart!" The three stressed syllables in a row sound like heartthrobs. The use of refrains is also effective.

The tragedy of the of the captain is made bittersweet by his ship's victory. The captain succeeded in his mission, even though he gave his life. Yet it is bitter to think that he misses the triumph due him.

The poem originally applied to Abraham Lincoln, who died so soon after ending the Civil War. But I think it applies to our late pontiff. He guided the "bark of Peter" through turbulent seas, and managed to bring it into the new millenium. I am reminded of St. Bosco's dream about popes piloting a ship through the two pillars of Mary and the Eucharist. (A summary of the dream can be found here.)

1 comment:

White Phantom said...

That's awesome! I'd never thought of it in referance to JPII (The Great!) I love that poem! *Insert enthusiastic cowboy whoop here.* :)