Give a brief account (in your own words) of why Whitman referred to Abraham Lincoln as “O Captain! My Captain”.
Walt Whitman’s 1865 poem, ‘O Captain! My Captain’, was written in honour of Abraham Lincoln shortly after his assassination during that year. Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States of America, in office for a 4-year period from March 1861 until his death in April 1865. It was during this time that the American Civil War was fought. This background knowledge of Lincoln helps us to understand why Whitman referred to him as ‘Captain’ throughout his poem.
‘O Captain! My Captain’ is an extended metaphor written around the theme of Lincoln’s death. Throughout the poem, the “ship” symbolises America with Lincoln represented as the “Captain” as it is he who was running the country, the ship. With the Civil War being fought in America at the time, Lincoln was well-loved for his accomplishments, especially with the banning of slavery in America. “Where on the deck my Captain lies, fallen cold and dead” completes this metaphor of Lincoln being the Captain of the ship that is America as we are able to feel the grief and sorrow felt towards Lincoln’s death throughout the poem as Whitman, alongside all of America, has just lost an important leader of their “vessel”.
“Abraham Lincoln.” Biography.com. Web. 4 Sept. 2017.
Whitman, Walt. O, Captain! My Captain. 1865. Print.
Gardner, Alexander. Abraham Lincoln. 1863. Web. 4 Sept. 2017.