Onomatopoeia

“O Captain! My Captain!”

Walt Whitman

(1) O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
(2) The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
(3) The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
(4) While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
(5) But O heart! heart! heart!
(6) O the bleeding drops of red,
(7) Where on the deck my Captain lies,
(8) Fallen cold and dead.

(9) O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
(10) Rise up–for you the flag is flung–for you the bugle trills;
(11) For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths–for you the shores a-crowding;
(12) For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
(13) Here Captain! dear father!
(14) This arm beneath your head;
(15) It is some dream that on the deck,
(16) You’ve fallen cold and dead.

(17) My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
(18) My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
(19) The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
(20) From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
(21) Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
(22) But I, with mournful tread,
(23) Walk the deck my Captain lies,
(24) Fallen cold and dead.

Biography

Walt Whitman fell in love with poetry at the age of 12. By learning the printer’s trade, his passion grew and he read substantial amounts of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and the Bible. When he was 17, he began working at a one-room schoolhouse in Long Island. When he left, he went for a full-time job in journalism. His first poetry book was praised by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Whitman continued to refine it. He ended up publishing several different volumes of the book. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Whitman vowed to live a “purged” and “cleansed” life. At the declining years of his life, Whitman lived in a simple home, and continued writing until his passing.

Source: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/walt-whitman

Poetic Technique

Onomatopoeia: the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named.

An onomatopoeia’s use can range from subtle to very obvious, and in this case, it is more subtle. The effect given by using onomatopoeia usually gives an impression of reality in the poem, or adds drama. In this case, Whitman says that the bugle “trills,” which is a play off of the sound that a bugle makes. It’s hard to immediately discern, but it makes you envision the scene of the poem.

Interpretation

” (1) O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;

(2) The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;”

The first line is a person yelling at his captain that a particularly hard journey is over. The second line implies that whatever journey they’ve suffered is finally both over and they have succeeded in their task.

“(3) The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
(4) While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:”

The speaker is a sailor on this ship, and while they’ve almost reached the port, they see people on the banks cheering and celebrating. There is a stark contrast between the joy of the people on the shore and the description of the vessel as “grim.” This could be an example of foreshadowing that something not too pretty will happen soon.

“(5) But O heart! heart! heart!
(6) O the bleeding drops of red,
(7) Where on the deck my Captain lies,
(8) Fallen cold and dead.”

These lines tell that despite the closeness to the final moments of their journey, something terrible happens. The speaker, this time, could be calling out to his or her heart, grief-stricken by the death of the captain. It could also be that the speaker is calling out to the captain to hold on to his heart in order to stay strong and try to survive. These “bleeding drops of red” could be blood spilled on the deck by the captain.

“(9) O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
(10) Rise up–for you the flag is flung–for you the bugle trills;
(11) For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths–for you the shores a-crowding;
(12) For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;”

These four lines show the speaker begging for the captain to come back. Line 9 is showing the speaker telling the captain to “rise up and hear the bells,” or come back to life. After all, there are people on the shore waiting eagerly for his return. Line 11 implies that the majority of the celebrations are for the captain, so he can’t die.

“(13) Here Captain! dear father!
(14) This arm beneath your head;
(15) It is some dream that on the deck,
(16) You’ve fallen cold and dead.”

Here, the speaker is trying to hold the captain, even calling him father. This shows that he has deep feelings for this man. Lines 15 and 16 suggest that the speaker thinks he is dreaming, because right as they make it home, the captain passes. He cannot and will not accept that reality.

“(17) My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
(18) My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;”

Here the speaker is trying to find a pulse in the captain’s body. He tries to feel it in his wrist, but the captain will not respond. In this case, the “will” is the captain’s will to live is gone. He is too far gone to be able to return.

“(19) The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
(20) From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;”

Now, the ship is finally home. It is anchored to the shore, and the voyage is finally over. Despite all the suffering that they have endured, they have returned. The “victor ship” refers to the victory of the ship’s return, and the “fearful trip” is the trip from which they have returned. An immediate read might suggest that the last line (line 20) doesn’t recognize the death of the captain. However, it is in dire situations that an optimistic point of view is necessary. That optimism is suggested by still be grateful and excited about finally being done with the journey and returning home. They have returned with their object won, as suggested by the “object won.” However, they have lost much on the journey.

“(21) Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
(22) But I, with mournful tread,
(23) Walk the deck my Captain lies,
(24) Fallen cold and dead.”

Here, the sailor is pacing the deck in mourning at the loss of his captain. He is telling the bells to continue ringing, unable to tell of the passing of the captain. We can imagine him here in deep thought, grieving over his body.

This poem tells the story of the death of Abraham Lincoln. He is represented in the captain, and his death was impossible for the public to accept and grasp. He died so close to victory, and never got to see it through. It was a dark day in our history, and it will surely never be forgotten.

Visual

oh captain my captain visual

Source: http://carrollbryant.blogspot.com/2013/07/abraham-lincoln-presidents.html

Visual Explanation

This is a picture of the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. During the time that this poem was written, Lincoln was assassinated while attending a production. His death shocked the nation, and inspired the writing of this poem. Whitman repeats “fallen cold and dead throughout the end of each verse, reaffirming that the poem mourns the loss of Lincoln. By asking if it is a dream that he is fallen, the initial shock of the event is so flawlessly portrayed.

2 thoughts on “Onomatopoeia

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