Analysis of Poems: Walt Whitman „O Captain! My Captain!” & John Berryman “Dream Song 149”

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  • Topic: John Berryman, Delmore Schwartz, American poets
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  • Published : October 27, 2012
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Krzysztof Miezalski

Analysis of poems:
Walt Whitman „O Captain! My Captain!” & John Berryman “Dream Song 149”

O Captain! My Captain!
By Walt Whitman
O captain! my captain! Our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won; The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting, While follow eyes the stead 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 ribboned wreaths, for you the shores a-crowding: For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning. O 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 anchored 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.

In the now cult 1989 Peter Weir movie “Dead Poets Society” the teacher John Keating asks his students to call him “O Captain! My Captain!” If they are daring enough and it is not until the end of the movie that they decide to do so. Their relationship with the all-inspiring and charismatic teacher gradually grows reaching a climax during the end of the movie. I believe a parallel can be drawn between the poem and the famous movie ending since the students fully realize what John Keating represented to them right before he is about to leave them. In this poem there seems to be the same addressing of one who will leave forever .This elegy written in honor of the assassinated president Abraham Lincoln is a good example of how the right and careful combination and choice of words as well as line length can affect the complexity and deepness of a poems meaning. Lincoln was assassinated in April of 1865 right when the Civil War that was tearing the country apart was coming to an end, therefore the “fearful trip” most obviously refers to the civil war coming to an end, a simile is drawn between the ship representing the Union guided by Lincoln as the Captain who now lies dead. The poem consists of three stanzas, eight lines each and what almost immediately draws our attention is the varied length of the first four compared to the later lines of each stanza. They are almost twice the length and once the first stanza is read we can realize why. It seems that what Whitman is trying to achieve by deploying such varied length is a kind of swaying of mood. The overall larger scale tone of this elegy is elevated, obvious joy and hope can be felt from the first lines of the first stanza “the prize we sought is won”, the terrible moment in American history is coming to an end and an obvious joy arises “the bells I hear”, “the people are exulting” but this only adds to the tragic and sudden information that comes. The loss of a man who did not live to witness the fruit of his sacrifice and yet was crucial in guiding the events to a relieving end. The author begins the first and second stanza with repeating the words “O captain! my captain!”, leaving the reader with no doubt to who the attention is and should be focused on, the Captain ,it is he whose tragic and sudden death is lamented and both stanzas end with the words “Fallen cold and dead”. Sorrow and a feeling of gratitude and praise are interconnected to show that Whitman is torn in his emotions but the varied length is an attempt to in some form perhaps outweigh the good and positive over the sadness and sorrow. It is also within such a structure of juxtaposition that both emotions are in fact strengthened. It is also within the way the...
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