O Captain! My Captain!
Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
"O Captain! My Captain!"
Proof sheet with corrections in ink, 1888
Walt Whitman (1819-1892) wrote this dirge for the
death of Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Published to immediate acclaim
in the New York City Saturday Press, "O Captain! My Captain!"
was widely anthologized during his lifetime. In the 1880s, when
Whitman gave public lectures and readings, he was asked to recite
the poem so often that he said: "I'm almost sorry I ever wrote
[it]," though it had "certain emotional immediate reasons for
While Whitman is renowned as the most innovative
of American poets, this poem is a rare example of his use of rhymed,
rhythmically regular verse, which serves to create a somber yet
exalted effect. Whitman had envisioned Lincoln as an archangel
captain, and reportedly dreamed the night before the assassination
about a ship entering harbor under full sail.
Restlessly creative, Whitman was still revising
"O Captain! My Captain!" decades after its creation. Pictured
here is a proof sheet of the poem, with his corrections, which
was readied for publication in 1888. The editors apparently had
erred by picking up earlier versions of punctuation and whole
lines that had appeared in the poem prior to Whitman's 1871 revision.
On the back is written:
Thank you for the little books, No. 32 "Riverside Literature
Series" --Somehow you have got a couple of bad perversions in
"O Captain," & I send you a corrected sheet--
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