Having Fun With Tongue Twisters

Have you ever been sitting around the house with the kids and bored to tears? You don’t want them watching television or playing video games either. You want them to find something to do that is going to keep them entertained and maybe educate them a little. We all know that most kids know that fun and learning is almost always a trap.

However, what if there was a way that we could make them laugh, improve their speech and offer a stronger vocabulary? Thankfully, there is and it comes in the form of fun and exciting tongue twisters.

While a tongue twister may sound like an immense form of pain in your mouth, it could not be further from the truth! In fact, a tongue twister is simply when a group of similar words are placed in a sentence and create a difficult situation for an unexpecting individual. While these tongue twisters are more than willing to give anyone’s speech a run through they will serve up some serious giggles. With that in mind, we thought it would be fun to get you off running with some of our favorite tongue twisters.

Now there are three rules you need to know if you are going to try these. One, you have to say them three times each. Two, you have to say them as fast as possible. And three, you have to laugh!

If you have ever gone to the beach, you more than likely have come across your fair share of seashells. In fact, this is exactly what ha[ppend to poor little Sally one afternoon:

“Sally sells silver sea shells… by the shiny sea shore…
So she can see… the shimmering silver ships”

Where you able to keep up with Sally and her seashells or did your tongue get tied up?

Origin of ‘Roses are Red’

We’ve all heard (and some of us might have even written) some variation of the classic love poem “Roses are Red.” It’s a simple four-line stanza with an equally simple rhyme scheme:

Roses are red

Violets are blue

Sugar is sweet

And so are you

And while this poem in itself comes off as something like a simple nursery rhyme, what if I were to tell you that its origins transform it into but a piece of a much greater work? While the modern-day usage is far from word-for-word compared to its ancestral use, the similarities are quite clear.

It was upon a Sommers shynie day,

When Titan faire his beames did display,

In a fresh fountaine, farre from all mens vew,

She bath’d her brest, the boyling heat t’allay;

She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew,

And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forest grew.

This excerpt is from the epic poem The Faerie Queene, written in 1590 by Sir Edmund Spenser, specifically Book Three, Canto 6, Stanza 6. For those of you who might not know, this poem is meant to reflect Elizabethan virtues (such as temperance, chastity, friendship and courtesy, among others) in the forms of various knights during their travels, as each of these virtues is challenged and tested. The work itself spans across seven different books, the seventh and final being incomplete, though Sir Spenser’s original intent was to compile a body of twelve separate books. But, I digress.

Other origin stories regarding “Roses are Red” can arguably be found in more content-similar sources. As the poem itself is one so simple in structure, content and rhyme scheme, it stands to reason to find that inspiration may very well have been drawn upon from the likes of actual nursery rhymes – in this case, “Gammer Gurton’s Garland: Or the Nursery Parnassus,” a collection of English nursery rhymes written by Joseph Ritson in 1784. The specific excerpt inclusive of the source for the modern-day poem is as follows:

The rose is red, the violet’s blue

The honey’s sweet, and so are you.

Thou art my love and I am thine;

I drew thee to my Valentine:

The lot was cast and then I drew,

And Fortune said it shou’d be you

Even more obvious than Spenser’s usage in “The Faerie Queene,” this practically shows the modern nursery rhyme verbatim within the body of the poetry itself. And considering the fact that this is literally from a book of nursery rhymes and how the poem is viewed in the modern day, it makes even more sense to associate the origins with “Roses are Red” to this work, whether many of us were even aware of its existence of not. There is, however, one body of work from which the poem may very well have evolved that many of us have heard about. The original two-line excerpt follows:

Les bleuets sont bleus, les roses son roses

Les bleuets sont bleus, j’aime mes amours

Translated from its original French, “The violets are blue, the roses are red, the violets are blue, I love my loves.” This is part of the body of a song sung by the character Fantine within the time-tested work Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Some speculate that he may have been familiar with Spenser and his work, “The Faerie Queene,” and perhaps drew inspiration from such, though to say one way or another definitively is a rather moot point. However, it is still interesting to note how so simple a poem in both structure and content can have such a lustrous background concerning its possible origin story.

Are Nursery Rhymes Considered Poems

What defines a poem? To many people, it is as simple as writing several lines of words with similar syllable counts and an easily identifiable rhyme scheme. To others, it can be as complex as associating techniques such as internal rhyme or particular cadences, or sometimes it employs no rhyme scheme at all, but emphasizes its content through imagery, clever wordplay and other writing techniques such as symbolism or allegory. Ultimately, it begs the question: are written pieces such as nursery rhymes actually considered poetry?

Many who are more versed in written poetry would be tempted to say that poetry as a whole is a composition of words in prose or verse form (even if that form happens to be blank verse with no real, defined or recognizable structure at all), the end result of an attempt to portray vivid emotions and ideas. Rhymes, arguably, are really only one piece to this puzzle on a general scale, assuming they are even utilized at all (refer to blank verse). Considering there are various types of rhymes and rhyme schemes (when they even exist) that can appear in a wide variety of ways, to argue that a nursery rhyme is on par with ‘legitimate’ poetry might be taken as an insult to some poetry purists.

And while it is true that, by their nature, nursery rhymes in general are not at all complex in either vocabulary, posited ideas or imagery, or even any sort of complicated rhyme scheme (generally, they employ some variant of the easily repetitive a, b, a, b style with the rhyme pairs consistently appearing at the end of lines), the idea that nursery rhymes could qualify as legitimate poetry could very well come down to nothing but personal preference.

With that said, the main element in nursery rhymes is in fact the rhymes themselves. The easily identifiable rhythmic meter is precisely what gives nursery rhymes their unique quality as opposed to being pairs of potentially meaningless, written verse that may or may not have rhyming words coming together at the end of them. Often, nursery rhymes employ few other (if any) poetic techniques for the sake of being simple enough for children to understand. And consider nursery are written primarily for young children. Many young children aren’t interested in or able to identify internal meaning or even many rhyme schemes any more complicated than external rhymes (incorporating words that rhyme at the end of lines), even though other potential rhymes do exist, such as the internal rhyme (in which words within the same line rhyme with each other), the assonantal or consonantal rhymes (which attempt a rhyme scheme by either vowel or consonant sounds respectively rather than an entire syllable), or even alliteration.

So, while it is not necessarily inaccurate to say that nursery rhymes are poetry, it puts a very broad definition to an already broad and sometimes vague topic of discussion in defining poetry. The greatest debate seems to be that nursery rhymes exist primarily to highlight only one technique of written poetry – and only one technique that may or may not even be used consistently within poetry. Very infrequently does a nursery rhyme involve any other poetic qualities besides cadence and overly simplistic rhyme schemes. So, when asked if nursery rhymes are poetry, it’s really only a small corner of poetic possibility that nursery rhymes ever touch upon.

Considering The Symbolism Of “The Raven”

As we get ever closer to Halloween, one of the favorite activities of some families is to read some of the classic works of Edgar Allen Poe.

After all, who else in American literature has such scary and macabre stories and poems, focused on death and lost love? Edgar’s our man when it comes to Halloween.

One of the favorite Halloween poems is “The Raven,” which was successfully spoofed by the animated show The Simpsons during a Halloween special.

Poe developed quite a legacy with his short stories and poems, all revolving around death, lost love and the macabre in general. “The Raven” is one of those poems that can be analyzed to be about either death or lost love, or perhaps both. The symbolism can be interpreted in a number of ways, and let’s take a quick look at a couple of these symbols and what they could mean.

The Raven

Of course in a poem known as “The Raven,” it would only make sense to spend a little time discussing the title character. The raven tortures the narrator of the poem, especially with his incessant “nevermore” reply. But what does the raven mean in the poem?

The narrator refers to “Lenore” a few times in the piece, and the raven is asked about Lenore. While the Lenore symbolism will be discussed in a minute, the raven could either be seen as death (due to the dark color of the bird, which is often correlative to death) or could be symbolizing the Grim Reaper taking away Lenore, that lost love. Another idea has to do with Lenore not being an actual person but a symbol of love, where the raven is a reminder to the narrator that death is coming and overrules any positive emotion in this mortal existence.

Lenore

Lenore is clearly a symbol and is not referring to an actual person. At least, that seems to be the idea, because Poe takes no effort to explain anything about her.

We know from Poe’s biography that he did have a true love lost in his life, a woman whom he was infatuated but was forbidden because she was married to someone else. Then she died quite young and it tore Poe’s heart.  Perhaps Lenore is a memory of that lost love, and the raven represents death which took her away from the narrator and tortures the narrator’s heartbreak.

Another possible explanation is that Lenore could represent life eternal, or hope and optimism, while the raven is reality of death and the finality of mortal existence, and as much as the narrator wants to “focus” on what is possible with Lenore, the raven never fails to dominate the room, showing that escaping death can never happen. It’s like paying taxes.

Flight of the Raven

Which direction “The Raven” actually goes is up for healthy debate, but it seems pretty clear that both of Poe’s favorite themes – death and lost love – are showing in colorful words straight from the heart of Poe, one of the great writers in American history, and the darling of Halloween.

The Frosting of Frost’s Fork

Robert Frost is a true American poetic legend.

His style, his mind-portraits with his words are all masterpieces that are celebrated for generations. But there may be one of his most-famous poems that have been turned into an unfortunate cliché

We have all gotten various greeting cards or “motivational” or “inspirational” notes that refer to the “road less traveled.” That phrase comes from Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” but a reading of the poem in its full context reveals that the phrase is misused constantly.

The basis of “The Road Not Taken” isn’t about being a trailblazer or doing something in an unorthodox way. If one actually reads the poem, the theme isn’t on the road that is truly less traveled – which in the poem doesn’t actually exist – but it is instead about the “fork in the road” that is a metaphor for any of life’s choices and decisions we make almost every day.

The truth of the matter is that the title gets misrepresented. We can read that clearly there is no road that is actually less traveled between the two that the narrator is considering. They are both virtually untraveled. The poem is not about blazing trails, it’s about the road our choice takes us down. It is untraveled because that “fork” is the decision that we have yet to make, and so no one else can go down either road because this is a decision that only we have individually.

You see, when we come to a decision, even if 100 other people faced the exact same decision, their “forks” are in a different context of their individual lives. Even if we have the same options, the course of our life will be different than those other 100 people. The untraveled road signifies where we will be going based on our decision. It’s essentially free will combining with what the “plan” will be for us. And our “plan” will be different than those 100 other people who may have had the same decision because all of our lives are individual and we all come to that decision, that “fork,” from different places.

With what is revealed about this poem is that it’s about future potential regret for the road not taken, and about the future and how we might see our lives based on the decision that we are yet to take. On the one hand, there is an expectation of one of two things – either we will remember our past inaccurately, or we will undergo some “revisionism” or hypocrisy about the decision.

On the other hand, the poem is about wondering “what if.” If we take one road, we will wonder at some point down that path whether we should have taken the other road – is the road not taken better than the one we chose? And as we make this choice only once, we are never able to go back and re-visit the fork again, which is also a lamentation in the poem.

Robert Frost is accomplished at painting a picture of nature that explores our psyche and makes us contemplate the beauty and the starkness of the decisions we make and possible consequences. Reading Frost is a fascinating psychological journey.

Famous Children’s Poets Who You Should Know

When we start reading to our kids, we don’t always consider adding variety to the regimen. Sure, simple stories are nice but sometimes kids and parents could both benefit from something a little bit different. Poetry can provide a lot of benefits for a young mind: not only does it make you think and interpret a lot more about a little bit, but it can also help put them to sleep when it’s time for bed. Sure, we all know Dr. Seuss. But there are more poets out there devoted to telling insightful tales to your kids. Here are a few of the great children’s poets whose names you should definitely know.

Shel Silverstein was a Playboy cartoonist, but don’t let that dissuade you from giving his poems a try. Actually, the Playboy mansion was where he wrote a lot of his work. He wrote Where The Sidewalk Ends, a book of poems that was quickly recognized as a classic.

Edward Lear wrote and illustrated his poetic works, and when he wasn’t doing that he was working on other artistic endeavors such as composing music. When he was writing children’s poems, however, he made a name for himself by perfecting the limerick. It could be argued that he’s the only reason most of us have heard so many of them growing up.

Jacqueline Woodson has written a number of successful young adult novels, but she writes for younger kids and even adults as well. She won a National Book Award in 2014 and was appointed as the young people’s poet laureate of the Poetry Foundation.

Robert Louis Stevenson is famous for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde and Treasure Island, but also a number of popular children’s poems on a variety of subjects. He isn’t afraid to venture into more serious topics or at least touch upon the darkness inherent in us all from time to time.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day was written by Judith Viorst, but she also wrote poetry for children and parents both. She is especially known for her witty, fun-flavored titles like: Sad Underwear and Other Complications.

Roald Dahl never stopped churning out poetry. He wrote a collection called Revolting Rhymes. In it, he retold famous fairy tales–but these were far darker than your traditional Disney flavor.

You may not have heard of Naomi Shihab Nye, but she’s a master of the narrative whether in the form of narrative or poetic verse. She has won a number of awards and prizes for her writing. She’s known for the kind of imagery she weaves into her tales.

How many of these children’s poets did you recognize? There are dozens more that you might wish to see on the list, but these are a good start.

Seven Controversial Poets You Should Read Right Now

Poetry isn’t for everyone, but there are some poets who write about the most explosive topics you could imagine. Those who are brave enough to venture into this territory of the written word should be commended for both their skill in gaining the attention of the masses and their willingness to do it, even knowing the consequences. These are seven of the most controversial poets you’ll ever hear about, and you should probably read a few of their poems as soon as you can.

W.B. Yeats wrote a poem called The Second Coming, a cold prophecy about the fall of a Christian age that has lasted for two thousand years. He firmly believed that such eras tended to last about that long, and that this one was ending at last. He considered the millions of dead from World War I to be evidence of this.

Amiri Baraka might be the most controversial on the list, and the most contemporary. After the events of 9/11, she wrote a poem called Somebody Blew Up America. A hardcore truther, he believed that President Bush was quite aware of what would transpire that day, as were the Israelis. This publication caused a battle between the poet and a number of government posts including the governor of New Jersey at the time, and soon enough the question of how far free speech can go came up.

Allen Ginsberg published Howl in 1956 inside of a collection. He was a fierce opponent of conformity during a time period that needed such a man to speak for the rest of us who couldn’t. He was openly gay, and at the time such a thing was considered an illness as well as a criminal act. His collection was taken into the court system of San Francisco, a city which thankfully allowed its publication.

T.S. Eliot got The Wasteland published in 1922, and it has graced literature classes ever since. All over the U.S., poetry was somewhat fluffy and light-hearted, and T.S. Eliot’s new work crushed everything we knew about the medium into darkness and oblivion in a post-war world left in extreme emotional pain.

William Shakespeare isn’t all that controversial anymore, but some of his subject matter isn’t for the faint of heart, and it wasn’t always well-received during the time in which it was written. Although it isn’t an explosive reason, some of the controversy surrounding Shakespeare regarded the writing conventions which up to that point hadn’t been standardized. Spelling and grammar were in part up to the author to define. He helped create a number of the words and colloquialisms still in use today.

Adrienne Rich’s Diving into the Wreck explored the past, present, and the way the two interact when it comes to the way in which we define the sexuality of women during the women’s movement. The poem is steeped in metaphor, opening with a shipwreck underneath the ocean surface.

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, perhaps one of the greatest achievements of his time period. Although his writing isn’t all that controversial in the strictest sense, he managed to strongly impact writing in the form of poetry for some time to come by implementing syllabic meter into his works. This helped propel Middle English used at that time into something that felt a lot more alive.

What Is A Paradox?

Many literary devices are often used as an abstract effect to convey various ideas, points of view or in the legal case of poetry, imagery or other methods toward evoking certain emotions or thoughts. In the case of the paradox, this might actually be one of the more obvious devices due to its stark contrast in its ability to grab the attention of readers as often mind-altering propositions for the reader’s consideration. The general definition of a paradox is a statement that appears initially to be self-contradictory or going against certain expectations or opinions.

Some would claim that the very purpose of reading any piece of literature is to be entertained through the reading itself (though many in the modern age might argue this against less engaging activities such as watching television or playing video games). And while the thought of being presented directly with information to absorb and cultivate in one’s mind can itself be pleasurable, in most cases it doesn’t necessarily present the challenge of any sort of critical thought. People tend to read, produce images from the written word in their mind, and take the images and string them together into some sort of coherent story or stream of information, depending on the medium in which they are presented. However, the sharp double-take readers might make after reading a paradox, theoretically, could be interpreted as bringing more pleasure to the reader by initiating a process of critical thinking and analysis in order to reveal some sort of hidden meaning or message within the context of the paradox. For example, one famous line of paradox follows, presented by Oscar Wilde:

“I can resist anything but temptation.”

At the base level, this statement would simply make no sense at all. How can one resist anything that might bear resisting if you can’t resist the temptation of it as a whole? As it turns out, this is the joke behind Wilde’s quote: that while he can resist the urges (or lack thereof) toward things that do not necessarily garner his attention or bear the fruit of any temptation for him whatsoever, the thought of resisting anything that might actually be considered tempting in any capacity is unlikely, if not altogether impossible.

The thought process that one goes through in an effort to discover the underlying meaning of such lines not only is a theoretically active device toward keeping a reader engaged in their reading, but it also induces the pleasure of coming to one’s own conclusions regarding such critical thought. Poetry, often viewed a measure of interpretation in and of itself, also tends to make use of paradox in this way. Through this, the act of analyzing and interpreting poetry to achieve one’s own meaning is amplified by  utilizing paradox: a wrench within the wrench that is often the poem’s cryptic message by itself. William Wordsworth utilizes paradox in this way in his work, “My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold”:

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety

The paradox noted in the poem, “The Child is father of the Man” may seem confusing to many at first glance, though in the way that fathers bring about children as progeny into the world, children by their virtue of growth through personal experience (as well as basic biology) give way to themselves to become men later in life. In this way, the use of paradox emphasizes the sometimes complex process of human life and growth, and simplifies it from the perspective of nature as a whole.

What Is An Onomatopoeia?

There are many devices within the English language that are used for varying effects in all forms of literature, from prose to poetry to different prompts in plays and scripts.  One of these lesser understood devices is the onomatopoeia, a way to describe sounds within the relevant language at the time.  Several onomatopoeiae that exist in the English language are often associated with the sounds or noises that animals make, such as “moo” for cows, “quack” for ducks, “meow” for cats, and so on, though many of these and other onomatopoeia will vary depending on the language in which they are used; where a native English speaker would use the onomatopoeia “tick tock” to describe the sound of a clock, a Japanese speaker would be more likely to say “katchin katchin.”

Studies show that onomatopoeia are the most commonly used phenomenon within infants while they are in the process of learning a native language. During this process, infants slowly begin to differentiate the use of the most common phonetics within a given language, what experts deem “tame” onomatopoeia, and the entire range of sounds that their vocal cords can produce, also known as “wild” onomatopoeia, to imitate various sounds that they hear within their environment. As the infant grows, the range of “wild” onomatopoeia slowly decreases while the frequency of appropriate use for “tame” onomatopoeia increases along with the formation of the language itself.

Onomatopoeia in the modern world often see use in media such as comic books. Comic books credit writer-artist Roy Crane with popularizing the onomatopoeia within comics to introduce a more fast-paced, action-driven story line.  Crane was also known to create new onomatopoeia to further the effects they might have within the narrative.  Pop culture historian Tim DeForest notes particular choices such as “ker-splash” and “lickety-wop” for variance within comic books. These sorts of use for the onomatopoeia even came to see frequent use in television, most notably in the 1960’s “Batman” series as the words themselves would occasionally appear on the screen similar to the style in which they were used in comic books. The onomatopoeia also sees frequent use within product advertising to describe the sounds various products make as a point of their appeal. Some may remember old jingles such as the Alka Seltzer commercials, “Pop pop fizz fizz, oh what a relief it is,” or the cartoon characters representing the sounds that the breakfast cereal “Rice Krispies” were known to make.

A lesser extent of the use of onomatopoeia nowadays is within literature, poetry in particular. Using techniques such as alliteration and consonance (a rhyming pattern that utilizes similar consonant sounds at the ends of words in lieu of traditional rhyme schemes that tend to utilize similar vowel sounds, typically known as “assonance”), writers are able to mimic the onomatopoeia in purpose even without necessarily or strictly using onomatopoeia themselves. The line “furrow followed free” in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner is often referred to in this regard, as the line itself mimics the repeated use of an onomatopoeia by way of consonantal technique. In many cases, onomatopoeia are used outright within poetry, to the same effect as consonance or alliteration, as to portray sound within the context of the poem itself, as exemplified by a verse from Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Bells.”

Hear the sledges with the bells –
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
in the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells –
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

Between the uses of the obvious onomatopoeia “jingle” and “tinkle” to the repetitious use of the titular “bells” themselves, one can consider the evocative imagery of bells constantly chiming and ringing about them as if they were being rung from a bell or clock tower. In poetry especially, this use of the onomatopoeia is prominent for this very reason: the evocative where words might otherwise fail.

Five Famous Poems

Poetry is all about emotion and imagination. Some of the best poems by the best poets are windows into the poet’s heart and mind. The most creative way to use language is through poetry, which is also the best way to put emotions and spiritual ideas into a language in a way that can be understood.

Many of us know the names of famous poets – Dickinson, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Poe, Angelou, Frost, Yeats. But do you recognize any of these very famous poems? Let’s take a quick look at five of the most well-known poems, and see how much of them you know.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Perhaps Robert Frost’s most well-known poem is about a patch of woods that belong to a neighbor, which the author observes while on a horse ride.  The quadrameter is attractive as Frost describes the scene with pleasant rhymes and colorful words in two stanzas. The piece ends with:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou, (she’s from North Carolina, not from Dallas, Texas like many claim!) was a one-time Poet Laureate of the United States, having one of the most famous poems about woman’s power and mystery. She wrote about a woman’s confidence and answered the question that men seemed to not know why a woman who is not a supermodel can still be so attractive. She puts it this way in one stanza, answering the question why men “still can’t see” her mystery:

I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.

The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe

Poe was a poet savant who passed away too young, and mainly of a broken heart. Much of his poetry was dark and anguished, some of it makes for great Halloween entertainment. He had several famous poems, but “The Raven” is probably his most famous, having been spoofed in a Halloween special of the long-running cartoon comedy The Simpsons. What was interesting is that the raven in the title doesn’t come into the poem until halfway through, and it’s introduced with Poe’s characteristic long meter and playful description:

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore –
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas

A sad but powerful poem from Dylan Thomas, it is written as a final plea of a child to its father who approaches death. A child’s love is crying out for Dad to keep up the fight and to not go into the afterlife without a fight. It can often be used as a ballad for those fighting cancer or other difficult, life-threatening circumstances:

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman is known for having bittersweet rhymes, and this ies perhaps oen of his most famous ones. It was immortalized in the 1980s movie Dead Poets’ Society, and the poem describes the “voyage” that is our childhood, captained by our parent or mentor. We celebrate the end of our journey (moving into adulthood), though our mentor has passed away from us. To wit:

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.