Walt Whitman wrote that poem in 1865 in aching response to the death of Abraham Lincoln. It is both joyous and heartbreaking, a celebration and a dirge. It has been repurposed many times, but it was crowned in the 1989 film Dead Poets Society with Robin Williams. I like that film, but I’ve never really loved it – except for that last scene. The whole movie leads up to it: students defying convention and misdirected authority, with desktops underfoot. “O Captain! My Captain!” And Robin Williams’ face, so kind and so proud of his wrested charges, captures that closing moment perfectly.
Such a life captured for eternity on film is a good thing.
Mr. Williams made a conscious, painful decision to leave us today. I do not judge him or his motives, except to say that I believe it was rightly his choice to make. I do not believe he rests in peace, or in torment; I believe his consciousness is no more. But I’m so happy with the legacy he left us. Thank you, my Captain, fallen cold and dead.