Student Stories, Thoughts

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.

                                                                                         -Walt Whitman (1865)

Not many people will have heard this line. Very few of us will actually connect the dots with a certain Mr Keating, of the fictional boarding school Welton Academy. But what is the meaning of the poem, why use it for an old school teacher disgracefully sent off. The fundamental crux of the movie is not challenging the academic setup per se. But rather is it a question and rather a more fundamental understanding of basic human nature.

Many of us face situations we do not like or want to get into, but we do it none the less. Most of our lives are defined not by our seeing things or experiencing them – rather they are defined by the literature we read, the literature we hear. The poem written on the death of Abraham Lincoln, is Walt Whitman’s tribute to the nations lost leader. A cry from the depths of the soul, a cry so vehement, so barbaric, and so ancient yet captured so beautifully in such a subtle, refined and elegant manner. It is the cry of humanity – that is literature. Most people today do not enjoy it, many despise or detest it. But in the populace, somewhere is that one person – crying the same cry as Walt Whitman did on that fatal day, a cry so primeval, so agonising, so raw – it cannot be ignored. Literature shapes humans, it creates and moulds our minds, gives us a purpose to life, a goal to attain. People praise the joys and the glory, they never know the price paid for it. They never understand the worth of a deed or an action till it is often too late to acknowledge it or admit ones deficiency.

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.

                                                                                                                    -Walt Whitman (1865)

As famously quoted by Chanakya, ‘A Man is great by deeds, not by birth’ – that is what leadership is. It is not being famous, getting the glories – it creating more leaders. It is creating a change in the human race, it is fighting till the last – leading by example and one’s own conviction, pitting it against the wave of mankind just to turn one drop at a time. It the glory, the fanfare, the tumult people notice – never the sacrifices, never the losses faced and the challenges overcome.

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.

                                                                                    -Walt Whitman (1865)

Very few today will remember the unsung heroes of the Cold Wars, the countless lives lost during the World Wars, or the people living ordinary lives just helping humanity out in their small meagre way. Recently in the news, there was a huge coverage and exultation over the Canonization of Mother Teresa, a simple woman leading a simple life and helping others out along the way just out of humanity. That is a leader – a person who selflessly works towards the benefits of others. They battle the odds, they change the flow of the tide – often giving their life in the process. Just because they believe in a better tomorrow – a time not limited or guided by power and power seekers, not one bound within the books; but a different life of going beyond the book, going for humanity.

In times like this, I remember a small incident from the life of Thomas Edison. After he discovered the Light bulb, a reporter asked him, ‘Sir, looks like you finally made it a success after 99 failures’. Thomas Edison replied to the reporter, ‘Dear Sir, I just found out 99 ways how not to make a light bulb work and only 1 way to make it work’. Life is not staying within the covers – it is taking the knowledge or opinion of another human being from within the covers and practicing it beyond the covers in your own interpretation. In our race to confirm, we often lose sight of the target and more often, the meaning of our existence. Who do we remember – the victor or the fallen? The fallen only lie in the dust – ‘From dust we came and to dust we go’, left only to the lone bugler on the hill playing the retreat accompanied by a bagpipe for the memories and the melancholy. The fanfare, the tumult, the crowds – all past, all gone to newer glories, newer attractions, newer stars on the field.

Shirshadeep Bhattacharyya | 2015-17