“O Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman is about Abraham Lincoln and his role as the leader of the country during the Civil War, steering the nation so that it did not tear itself apart. The boat in the poem is a metaphor for the nation, with President Lincoln at the wheel steering. With that in mind, the paraphrase of the poem follows.
"O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done" would translate to, "oh leader or Mr. President, the war is over."
"The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won"—the union has come through difficult times and won the war.
"The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting, / While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring"—we are at the end of the long war and can see the end in sight. The bells toll the war’s end, and the people are all happy. All eyes are on the steady and courageous boat [which the head of the nation steered].
"But O heart! heart! heart! / O the bleeding drops of red, / Where on the deck my Captain lies, / Fallen cold and dead."—But my heart is breaking as I see the president’s heart bleeding drops of red blood where he lays. Having fallen dead, his body is cold already.
"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"—Mr. President, get up to hear the bells. Get up because the flag is waving for you. The bugle trills for you and all the people are holding bouquets and wreaths with ribbons on them for you. The people are crowding around to see you and calling for you, with their faces eagerly awaiting your arrival as they, the masses, sway together.
"Here Captain! dear father! / This arm beneath your head! / It is some dream that on the deck, / You’ve fallen cold and dead"—Oh President Lincoln, dear father. My arm is beneath your head to support you because it must be a bad dream that you are 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"—President Lincoln, my father, does not respond. His lips are pale and do not move. He has no pulse and he never will, nor does he have the will to get up.
"The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done, / From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won"—The nation is safe and sound, the war has ended. From a fearful frightening war, the Union has won.
"Exult O shores, and ring O bells! / But I with mournful tread, / Walk the deck my Captain lies, / Fallen cold and dead"—The people are happy. They ring the bells. But I am walking like a mourner and pacing the ship's deck where President Lincoln lies. Having fallen dead, the heat has already left his body, which has turned cold.