O Captain! My Captain!
Reading Comprehension Activity

Author: Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman worked as a nurse in Union army hospitals during the Civil War. After the assasination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, Whitman wrote this elegy for Lincoln. The poem is an extended metaphor. Students will read the poem and answer questions regarding Whitman’s use of figurative language.

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President Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth and died on April 15, 1865 in Washington, D.C. The Civil War had ended just six days earlier when Confederate General Lee surrendered to Union General Grant.  Walt Whitman wrote this elegy, or tribute poem, after Lincoln’s death.


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.

Comprehension Questions

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