Whitman didn’t write many poems that rhymed. He certainly stopped trying to write rhymed verse by the time he published his first edition of Leaves of Grass. Even in this poem, his rhymes vary from perfect to slant, and back again. Although the poem at times can fall into a sing-song-y pattern (for more on this, check out “Form and Meter”), it never quite allows us as readers to get too comfortable.
This sonic back and forth reflects the two tasks that Whitman had in writing this poem. He wanted to celebrate the accomplishments of Lincoln (the captain), but he also wanted to mourn the loss of the president. It’s a pretty hard balance to strike, when you think about it, but it’s one that ol’ Walt manages to pull off here. In part, he does it with the help of his funky, back-and-forth rhyme scheme.