Diction In Walt Whitman's 'O Me ! My Captain !'

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In 1831, at the age of twelve, Walt Whitman began working for his local newspaper. He soon fell in love with the written word and started writing his own poetry (“Poet Walt Whitman”). Fast forward to the turn of the 20th century, and Whitman has already made a name for himself as one of America’s most influential poets. Two of Whitman’s most esteemed works are “O Captain! My Captain!”, written in 1865 to reflect on Abraham Lincoln's death, and “O Me! O Life!”, written in 1891 to contemplate life’s purpose. Written almost three decades apart, these poems have many similarities and differences that emphasize the importance of Whitman’s style that transcends time and subject matter. “O Captain! My Captain!” and “O Me! O Life!” by Walt Whitman …show more content…
The two poems employ simple but descriptive diction that effectively exalt the theme of the poem. Originally, “O Captain! My Captain!” uses specific word choice to show the reader how the narrator feels. For example, Whitman clearly depicts the the formidable state of the country during the time of the Civil War in the line “the vessel grim and daring” (4). Likewise, “O Me! O Life!” utilizes noncomplex rhetorical diction as seen in Whitman’s line “for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?”(3). This line demonstrates Whitman “examin[ing] himself in a self-deprecating tone, labeling himself ‘foolish’ and ‘faithless’ to believe he influences the world around him” (“‘O Me! O Life’ by Walt Whitman” par. 3). Both poems use simple but powerful diction to outline the true message of the poem. However, each poem has a different tone. “O Captain! My Captain!” portrays a passionate tone of misery and distress through the imagery of a sailor grieving over his deceased captain. The narrator demonstrates the main stages of grief as shock, denial, and depression mixed with acceptance. In juxtaposition, “O Me! O Life!” has a depleted and hopeless tone as displayed in Whitman’s line, “the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish” (2). And yet, the tone shifts at the end of the poem as “[Whitman] uses the opportunity to remind readers (and himself) that the purpose of life is to live” (“Walt Whitman: Poems” par. 4). The similar diction of the poems combined with differing tones illustrate that Whitman’s simple yet diverse style was displayed in his works throughout his

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