‘O Captain! My Captain’ is a moving poem in which Whitman expresses his profound sense of grief at a tragic end of a leader of men is addressed to Abraham Lincoln, one of the greatest presidents of the United States of America, who fought a war (the American Civil War) against the Southern States to give the Negro slaves freedom and human dignity. The war was won, the slaves were freed, but Lincoln, soon after his election as president for a second term, fell a victim to an assassin’s bullet.
The leader is being conceived as the brave captain of a ship who falls dead on the deck just when the journey is over and the victory is won. Whitman delivers the message to the captain and declares that their fearful and dangerous trip is done. Their ship had withstood every destructive encounter and their prized reward that they longed for is won. Their weary ship is drawing near the sea-port, the church bells are ringing to celebrate a victory and the people are rejoicing. Yet in the midst the celebration, he sees that within the grim and the daring vessel, his heart would spill profusely with drops of blood of immeasurable sadness to see his captain lying cold and dead.
Whitman pleads desperately to the captain to get up from his bed and see that the people are flying the flag just for him. The people are blowing their trumpets and bugles and are waiting to present him with bunches of flowers and decorated garlands to honour him-the victor. The seashores are swaying with crowds of cheering people. All the faces of the people on the shore are eager to see the captain addressing them from the deck. Yet the captain, a father to all people of the nation slept still and cold with his arm beneath his head. It is like an unbelievable bad dream that the leader is dead at the moment of victory.
Yet the captain does not answer still. His lips are extremely pale and not moving. Whitman says that his father does not feel his arm, and has neither pulse nor movement. The ship has finally reached the shore. It has dropped its anchor safe and sound. The long tiring voyage is closed and done. The triumph for the achievement is worth the effort. Whitman encourages the people on the shores to continue rejoicing and ring those bells as loud as possible. For him he will walk the heavy steps with deep sadness to the deck where his captain lies absolutely cold and dead.