Text of the Poem

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.


  1. The poem’s final stanza dwells on the bittersweet contrast of joy and sorrow: as the shores exult and the bells ring, the captain who led the ship to victory lies on the deck with “lips [that] are pale and still.” In addition to expressing deep sorrow about the loss of the captain, Whitman hints at the inevitable cost of war—for victory in battle always comes at a cost.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. Whitman’s extolling the shores to exult is an example of personification, in which nonhuman things are given human-like characteristics or qualities. Personifying the shores is possibly a form of metonymy, a device in which something is referred to not by its name but by something closely associated with it. Therefore, the shores represent the masses of people welcoming the ship as it enters the harbor.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Whitman juxtaposes the commemoration of a victory with the death of the ship’s captain throughout the poem. Juxtaposition is a literary device in which two things are placed alongside each other in order to highlight their differences. By presenting images of celebration alongside images of the dead captain, Whitman reveals the tragic irony of a leader’s not being able to join in celebrating victory.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. A “bugle” is a brass instrument that is similar to a trumpet. Bugles were often used as military signals, as well as for celebratory and funereal purposes.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. This line contains alliteration, or the repetition of consonant sounds, in the words “flag” and “flung.” In this case, alliteration both enhances the images of celebration—which Whitman contrasts with images of the captain who has “fallen cold and dead”—and reinforces the poem’s steady rhythm.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. Each stanza of the poem ends with the refrain “fallen cold and dead.” A refrain is a line or group of lines that repeat throughout a text, usually at the end of a stanza. By concluding each stanza with a reminder that the captain has died, Whitman creates a vivid contrast between the celebration and the captain lying dead on the ship’s deck.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. The repetition of the word “heart” is an example of epizeuxis, a literary device in which words are repeated without intervening words between them. In this context, epizeuxis underscores the distress of the speaker, who mourns the death of his captain.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. The noun “keel” is an archaic term for ship. Whitman’s speaker describes the ship as a “steady keel” to possibly suggest that, though it suffered many hardships, the vessel has remained strong and capable.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. The verb “to exult” means to rejoice or feel intense joy. Whitman portrays the triumphant celebration after the ship returns home victorious.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. The ship is a symbol for the United States, which had just emerged from the Civil War (1861–1865) at the time Whitman was writing. The victorious return of the ship without its captain is an extended metaphor, which unfolds throughout an entire text, for President Lincoln’s leading the Union to victory over the Confederacy and his assassination.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. The exclamation points that break up the first line of the poem are an example of caesurae, which are breaks or pauses created by punctuation marks in the middle of a line of verse. Together with diacope, caesurae establish rhythm while calling the reader’s attention to the subject of the poem—the fallen captain.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. Whitman’s speaker is addressing his captain, which is an example of apostrophe, or a device in which a narrator speaks to someone or something that cannot respond. In his exclamation of “O Captain! my Captain!” the speaker expresses a strong emotion that quickly shifts from triumphant to despairing.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. The first line of the poem is an example of diacope, or the repetition of a word with intervening words in between. By forcefully repeating the word “Captain,” Whitman immediately emphasizes the subject of the poem while also establishing rhythm.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor