Walt Whitman’s 1865 poem “O Captain! My Captain!” is one of the best-known American poems of the 19th century. The poem is an elegy, memorializing Abraham Lincoln, America’s sixteenth president. Although Lincoln is never directly named in the poem, he is alluded to through the poem’s extended metaphor. Students reading the poem will learn to decipher the figurative language throughout in order to understand the poem’s literal meaning. In addition to learning about elegy and extended metaphor, students will be able to analyze Whitman’s sound devices, diction, and unique poetic structure.
Walt Whitman O Captain My Captain Extended Metaphor
"O Captain! my Captain!"
The captain is a metaphor for Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States from 1861-1865. Lincoln was like a captain because he was the leader of the country in the same way that a captain leads his crew.
The ship signifies the nation, or the United States. The term "ship of state" is often used to refer to a nation's government.
"The ship has weathered every rack"
The rack, or storm, signifies the Civil War between the Union and Confederacy which threatened to destroy the United States and tear it in two. "Weathering" the storm means that the United States has survived despite the war.
"The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done"
The ship arriving safely means the war has ended. The Confederacy surrendered on April 9, 1865. This meant that the southern states would remain in the union and the United States would continue to exist as a nation.
"on the deck my Captain lies, fallen cold and dead"
The captain's death refers to the assassination of Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth on April 15, 1865. He was shot while at the theater and died a few hours later.