O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman

There have been a lot of tributes over the past few to the late, great Robin Williams. He touched all of us in different ways. I remember him best as Genie in Aladdin, because it was one of my favorite movies as a kid. I still love the madcap fun of the character and his voice.

But I like connections; I like putting things together so that both things are made that much richer. One of Robin Williams’s best-known roles was in The Dead Poets Society as Mr. Keating. He teaches the kids about the power of poetry:

And at the end of the film, the boys stand on their desk as he is leaving and, in solidarity, yell “O Captain! My Captain!”

This is in reference, of course, to the Walt Whitman poem of that title. I don’t know how many people are generally aware of what the poem is about. It was written by Whitman upon the death of Abraham Lincoln. It’s about the sudden, saddening death of a great man. Something about that distant and tenuous but somehow appropriate connection makes the memories of Robin Williams more beautiful, and it makes the poem more beautiful, too. Because, as his character says, we read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.

Here is 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.

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