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Poem of the Week: Walt Whitman’s “O Captain, My Captain”

When attending concerts, I admire the musicians when they must play their signature pieces. These are the songs everyone knows by heart. These are the ones we sing along with at our loudest volume and quite often off-key. Many a musician grows to loathe having written these songs. They must turn up fake enthusiasm and play the broken record of their lives that makes them known.

“It’s My Captain again; always My Captain. My God! When will they listen to me for whole and good?”

Walt Whitman as quoted by Investor’s Business Daily

The same can be said of Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass is his most masterful work, yet “O Captain, My Captain” might be his most-known poem. It isn’t that the poem doesn’t ring true. It does. But, it is often the chosen tune rather than the epic poem Song of Myself. I am guilty of neglecting Whitman’s “whole and good” for the easier, teachable, unifying words of historical significance. It is easy to recite “O Captain, My Captain” at our loudest volume. But, we are off-key if we forget that this poem is not Whitman’s “barbaric yawp.”

So I challenge myself and my readers to “listen” to Whitman this week. Read the favorite, but also read what many deemed unfavorable while the “father of free verse” lived. Then let’s be free to “contribute a verse” and “sound [our own] barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”

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