On This Day: American Poet Walt Whitman Corrects “O Captain! My Captain!”

February 8, 2023
A photo of

On This Day

February 9, 1888

American poet Walt Whitman made corrections to his poem "O Captain! My Captain!" and sent them to publishers after they made "a couple of bad perversions."
Here's What To Know:

"O Captain!"

  • Whitman wrote the poem in response to the 1865 assassination of Pres. Abraham Lincoln.

  • Whitman revised his poem a few times. After an incorrect version of his poem was printed, Whitman wrote to the publishers: "I send you a corrected sheet," which detailed punctuation & wording edits.

  • "O Captain!" gained popularity during Whitman's lifetime & he even expressed slight regret about writing it after being asked to recite it often. However, he also said the poem was necessary for both emotional & historical purposes.

Whitman, often called "America's poet," is most well-known for his collection of poetry titled "Leaves of Grass." He also wrote other poems about President Lincoln, including an elegy called "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." Read this and other poems of Whitman's by visiting our source page.

Did you know? Poetry experienced a resurgence during the beginning of the pandemic, with websites like poets.org getting up to 30% more visitors.

Today in History – February 9 (Library of Congress)

The Walt Whitman Archive; Commentary on "Oh Captain! My Captain!"

Click HERE to read the Poetry Foundation's brief bio on Walt Whitman

O Captain! My Captain!
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady 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 ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here 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 anchor’d 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.

Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair’d in the adamant of Time.

When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Here are a few of Whitman's other famous poems:

by Jenna Lee,