17: O Captains! My Captains!

Today we remember fallen leaders, connected by a poem.

In 1865, US president Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The famous American poet Walt Whitman wrote a beautiful poem to mourn the loss of the leader, called: “O Captain!, My Captain!“. I think the poem, by and large, is not very well known. Here is the only version I know of a song with the lyrics of this poem. Melody and singing: Carolyn Hester.

130 years later, another Captain fell. Exactly 20 years ago this week, the 4th of November 1995, then Israeli Prime Minister – Yitzhak Rabin – was assassinated. The great late Naomi Shemer – one of Israel’s greatest song writers, translated Whitman’s poem into Hebrew, wrote her own melody and created a beautiful song. This version has become a standard item in Rabin’s annual memorial ceremonies. Meital Trabelsi delivers a powerful rendition that fits the song’s mood so well. You just want to cry.

Lastly, maybe a bit kitsch but I love it. Israeli TV runs a popular show called “Music School”. Basically, it’s an Israeli version of “The Voice”, only the contestants are kids. In 2011, one of the contestants – 10 year old Adi Biti – performed the Shemer’s version. Coming from a 10 year old child, I think it’s an amazing performance. She seems to really feel the lyrics, although at that young age, she knew and understood so very little about the song and the context.

So, that was an interesting winding road that an old poem took. Where does this take you next?

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