Monday, May 14, 2007

PTSW: O Captain! my Captain!

I have been a little wary of homeschooling, though one of my nephews seems to have benefitted from it and one of my closest friends successfully homeschooled his two young sons for a year or two. But I am a fan of one of the heroes of homeschooling, E.D. Hirsch, and of Hirsch's emphasis on "Cultural Literacy". I think many of the current generation of students have huge gaps in their "cultural literacy".

In February I like to recite this famous poem by Walt Whitman for my class. It mourns the loss of the Great Emancipator and was written very soon after Lincoln's assassination. It is definitely the exception to many of Whitman's rules. The regular rhythm and strict rhyme scheme is unusual for Whitman. They say he became so wearied of being asked to recite this poem that he expressed regret for ever having written it!

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 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 ribboned 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.
-by Walt Whitman

I memorized "O Captain! my Captain!" when I was in fourth grade. I suppose Miss Brown required it, though I really don't remember that that was the case. My greatest heroes at the time were Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee. I suppose my Confederate forebears were spinning. Come to think of it, I suppose those two old enemies are still in my top ten.


The series of posts, A Poem to Start the Week, is my little anthology of poetry, many of which I have used with my students in elementary schools during 27 years of teaching.

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