Campus Reform | Rutgers to move statue of 'O Captain! My Captain!' author Walt Whitman

Rutgers to move statue of 'O Captain! My Captain!' author Walt Whitman

Rutgers University-Camden will move a sculpture of Walt Whitman on its campus to a different location.

The Poetry Foundation considers Whitman one of the most influential poets in American history.

Rutgers University-Camden will relocate a statue of Walt Whitman, the celebrated American poet who penned “O Captain! My Captain!”

In August, the school announced the creation of a “Committee on Public Art and History” that would consider a petition to remove the Whitman statue. The statement declared that “the long-overdue racial reckoning that the United States is currently facing has taken multiple forms, among them challenges to the memorialization of a range of historical figures and events.”

With nearly 4,000 signatures at the time of publication, the petition declares that the sculpture “glorifies a man who we should not hold such a place of honor on our campus.” 

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Rutgers Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Mike Sepanic told Newsweek that the committee had decided to move the statue to another campus site.

“A committee of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members, including a number of historians and artists, examined this broad topic during the past year," Sepanic explained to the outlet. "Their recommendations include the relocation of a statue of Walt Whitman from in front of our Campus Center to another site on campus — in a garden space near a century-old tree — where the statue can be displayed with accompanying contextual information within the coming months.”

The Poetry Foundation records that Whitman was one of the most important poets of the nineteenth century. His work — including “Leaves of Grass” — would influence William Carlos Williams, Simon Ortiz, and Allen Ginsberg.

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During the Civil War, Whitman lived in Washington, D.C., and worked to care for wounded Union soldiers. Influenced deeply by the “long cadences and rhetorical strategies of Biblical poetry,” Whitman would eulogize President Abraham Lincoln:

O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved?

And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that has gone?

And what shall my perfume be for the grave of him I love?

“O Captain! My Captain!” also recalls the life of Lincoln:

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.

Campus Reform reached out to Rutgers University-Camden for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.

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