Divergence Into Tradition: Whitman’s Successful Conventionality In “O Captain! My Captain!”

725 words - 3 pages

Divergence into Tradition: Whitman’s Successful Conventionality in “O Captain! My Captain!”
President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination served as the tragic closing to the American Civil War. Walt Whitman, who idolized Lincoln because he felt that they shared the common goal of uniting the nation, wrote one of his most famous poems, “O Captain! My Captain!” as a lament, portraying the horror he felt after hearing of the loved president’s death. When compared to almost all of Whitman’s other poems, “O Captain! My Captain!” stands out in that the structure and style implemented in the poem do not offer a fair representation of Whitman’s usual writing. The poem garnered much appreciation and commendation, although Whitman did not enjoy the compliments because they had never applied to his regular poetry, and remains popular and well-known even to this day. Because Lincoln’s death reverberated through the United States, Whitman utilizes conceit and allusions, regular end-rhyme, stanzas, and meter in “O Captain! My Captain!” to connect all the people in the United States in mourning a father figure and leader’s death.
As Jhan Hochman notes in his essay, Whitman portrays the nation’s “fearful trip” through the Civil War by the means of an extended metaphor, describing the image of a ship that has navigated through rough waters to arrive back at port. The captain addressed throughout the poem, who lies dead while the people on shore rejoice and celebrate victory, represents Lincoln by displaying Whitman’s respect and admiration for the president; using the more personal and possessive “my Captain” instead of “the Captain,” Whitman enunciates the depth of his, and the nation’s, love for Lincoln. The speaker of the poem, representing both Whitman and the people of the United States, even refers to his captain as “[his] father,” further emphasizing his loyalty to the captain and the bitter sadness his death causes. This fierce loyalty mirrors Whitman’s loyalty to Lincoln as a political follower because Lincoln shared Whitman’s goals of uniting the nation, the “prize [they] sought [and] won,” no matter the costs; such loyalty resulted from the realization...

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