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"O Captain! My Captain!" -- Vocabulary from the poem

June 4, 2013
Walt Whitman's famous "O Captain! My Captain!" is a tribute to Abraham Lincoln at the end of the Civil War and a mournful remembrance after the President's assassination (etext found here).
fearful
A ship's trip can be fearful because there are many natural and man-made dangers in the sea. But the "fearful trip" that Whitman is referring to is the Civil War, during which he'd volunteered as a nurse in the army hospitals. "Fearful" also means "extremely distressing"--this could refer to Whitman's sighting of wounded soldiers and the heaps of their amputated limbs, as well as the capture of his brother by the Confederates.
O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
weather
The ship has weathered every kind of weather and severe damage ("rack" is a variation of "wrack"); the ship of State and its people have weathered both physical storms and intense emotional anguish ("rack" can also be a verb or noun that's connected to torture).
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
sought
The prizes a military ship might seek could be: 1) the surrender of an enemy ship; 2) goods from the conquered land; 3) the end of the war. But in connection to the Civil War, the prizes sought could be: 1) the reunification of the country; 2) the abolition of slavery; 3) the end of the war.
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
exult
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
steady
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
grim
The "vessel" could be both the ship that represents the nation and Lincoln as the means through which a new nation was formed. The adjective "grim" could describe Lincoln's physical appearance (although often pictured that way, he enjoyed telling dirty and inappropriate jokes); it also means "not to be placated or appeased or moved by entreaty" and this could describe the manner he had to take to keep the Union together.
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
fling
Rise up--for you the flag is flung--for you the bugle trills;
trill
Rise up--for you the flag is flung--for you the bugle trills;
wreath
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths--for you the shores a-crowding;
eager
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
pulse
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
anchor
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
victor
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
mournful
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
tread
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
captain
The images throughout the poem connect to the given definition. But "captain" also simply means "the leader of a group of people"--and in this poem, it is referring to Abraham Lincoln as the President of the newly reunited states of America. Lincoln never actually captained a military ship, but he did leave home in a canoe, patented a flotation device for the movement of boats in shallow water, and argued many cases in the interests of riverboat companies.
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

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Comments from our users:

Tuesday August 19th, 12:29 PM
Comment by: DJ (Cayman Islands)
I love this one!
Wednesday August 20th, 5:45 AM
Comment by: Englezzz (Croatia)
10/10 :D
Thursday August 21st, 7:10 PM
Comment by: Polymath Wizard (Iceland)
Guys, check out the poem itself. It is full of true manhood, something you cannot find in today's oppressive feminist society.

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