Finding the Heart in Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!”

Lesson Introduction

In Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” he uses rhyme, meter, repetition, assonance, and other rhetorical and poetic devices to capture the emotional historical moment in the United States of America after Lincoln’s assassination. Through group discussion, students will examine the figurative language of the poem to connect the metaphor of the captain to the slain president. In small groups, students will practice round-robin and choral readings of the poem to feel the bodily impact of Whitman’s poetic language and then perform the recitations for their peers. Students will then write their own elegies or poems inspired by current events in the style of Whitman. 

Learning Objectives

In this lesson, students will have opportunities to:

  • Identify poetic and rhetorical devices in a poem.
  • Consider how poetic language can bring life to a historical moment.
  • Explore a historical moment through a poet’s view.
  • Work in groups to refine public speaking skills.
  • Imitate a poet’s style and syntax to broaden the possibilities in their own writing.

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