My husband is one of those natural leaders. People listen to what he says and mostly do what he says. My niece, who needs a tetanus shot after cutting herself the other day, just said to me, “Well, Uncle is my go to for medical advice.” Mind you, my husband is not a doctor. I also gave my niece the very same advice before my husband weighed in (obviously I am not a doctor either) but it was my husband’s voice that motivated her and who she now gives credit to. It's fine. It happens a lot. I’m just happy she is taking care of herself. But, her uncle does have that voice that people listen to (and it only helps that it is deep and smooth—a good late-night radio voice).
My husband also has the true quality that all great leaders should have, he is very ethical. He will always do the right thing. He plays by the rules. This makes me feel like an evil doer sometimes because unlike me, he will never even buy bootleg copies of movies. He also will only use one coupon in Bed Bath & Beyond and only if it is not expired.
During this discussion last night, I realized what guest would be joining Day 24 of our POETRY Celebration, O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman.
Americans should all know this poem. Whitman born in New York, spent much of his time in D.C. where, supposedly, he passed President Abraham Lincoln on the street often. Whitman had a great admiration for this leader and all he stood for. He also admired Lincoln’s work ethics. He supposedly said he would see Lincoln’s candle burning bright as he worked well into the nights.
Whitman, an anti-slavery advocate, wanted to assist his leader however he could. He volunteered as a nurse to help the wounded soldiers during the Civil War. When the war was won, Whitman was thrilled. Five days later he was shocked and saddened when his beloved president was assassinated.
He caught these mixed feelings in his famous poem:
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.
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.
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.
The speaker has faithfully followed and fought for his captain and although they return victorious, he is mournful when he finds his captain dead. This devotion to a leader is what we often lack in America now. The speaker, like Whitman, trusted and admired their captain, their president in a way that seems odd to our country now, but it is something we should aspire to.
Taking this beyond America, many of us can relate on a different level to a coach, mentor, teacher, boss, etc. That leader that we know will fight for our best interests and so we happily rise up with him/her.
Dead Poet’s Society made this poem even more popular when the students stood up on their desks and paid tribute to their beloved teacher after he was fired. This scene, in my mind, is the way the poem should be recited. It’s a poem that should be sung from the mountaintops or desktops. It calls for us to raise ourselves up and celebrate the victories of our leaders when they do something beneficial for us. Our height and our praise should be towering.
So think about those who have helped steer you towards your accomplishments in life, when you read this poem. And if you are lucky enough to still have your Captain here, “Rise up” and let them know, “for you the bugle trills.”
I’ll be snuggling next to my Captain tonight. “But O heart! heart! heart!”