‘The Captain’s Daughter’ Stanza Wise Explanation & Notes

“The Captain’s Daughter” by James T. Fields is a narrative poem that vividly captures the intense and perilous experience of a ship caught in a storm at sea. The poem is both literal and metaphorical, addressing the physical challenges of navigating a stormy sea and the emotional resilience of the characters involved.


The poem “The Captain’s Daughter” by James T. Fields paints a vivid picture of a ship caught in a ferocious storm at night. The first stanza introduces the setting and the dire situation, with the passengers huddled in the cabin, unable to sleep due to the raging tempest.

The second stanza highlights the fear and uncertainty that grip the crew as they face the destructive power of the storm. The harsh wind, the tearing sound of the storm, and the command to cut away the mast all contribute to the atmosphere of dread.

Stanza three captures the palpable tension and silence that pervade the cabin, as even the strongest men hold their breath, overwhelmed by the relentless onslaught of the sea. The image of the “hungry sea” and “breakers talking with Death” underscores the menacing nature of the storm.

In the fourth stanza, the captain’s despair reaches its peak as he declares their imminent doom. The oppressive darkness and the desperate prayers of the passengers further emphasize the hopelessness of their situation.

In a moment of innocence and unwavering faith, the captain’s young daughter offers a glimmer of hope. With a comforting touch and a simple question, she reminds her father that God’s presence transcends any physical environment, just as He is present on land.

Stanza Wise Explanation of ‘The Captain’s Daughter’

Stanza 1:

“We were crowded in the cabin,
Not a soul would dare to sleep,
It was midnight on the waters,
And a storm was on the deep.”


  • crowded: tightly packed together
  • cabin: a small room on a ship
  • soul: a person
  • midnight: twelve o’clock at night
  • dare: to have the courage
  • waters: the sea
  • deep: the ocean bottom
  • storm: a violent weather disturbance with strong winds and rain or snow


The poem begins with the speaker and a group of people huddled together in the crowded cabin of a sea ship. The atmosphere is tense with fear as it was a stormy midnight at sea. Sleep is impossible due to the severity of the situation.

The opening stanza establishes a sense of tension and impending danger and fear  that is about to unfold. The crowded cabin and the reluctance to sleep suggest a heightened state of anxiety and anticipation. The storm at sea becomes a metaphor for the challenges and uncertainties of life.

Poetic Devices:

  • Imagery: the mention of the storm at midnight creates a vivid mental image of the challenging conditions on the ship.
  • Pathos: The use of the storm as a backdrop immediately introduces a sense of danger and sets a somber tone.
  • Personification: The storm is personified as “a storm was on the deep,” giving it human-like qualities.
  • Imagery: The description of being “crowded in the cabin” and the use of “midnight on the waters” paints a picture of darkness and uncertainty. The storm on the deep creates a vivid image of the turbulent sea.
  • Alliteration: The repetition of the ‘w’ sound in “waters” and “was” adds a rhythmic quality to the verse.

Stanza 2:

“Tis a fearful thing in winter
To be shattered by the blast,
And to hear the rattling trumpet Thunder,
“Cut away the mast!”


  • fearful: causing fear, scary
  • winter: the coldest season of the year
  • shattered: broken to pieces
  • blast: a strong gust of wind
  • rattle: to make a loud, rapid shaking noise
  • trumpet: a brass musical instrument used to signal commands
  • cut away: to remove by cutting
  • mast: the tall, upright pole that supports sails on a ship


The speaker reflects on the fear of facing a thing like a storm in winter, emphasizing the destructive power of the wind. The rattling thunderous command to “cut away the mast” suggests a desperate attempt to save the ship from further damage. In other words, the speaker describes the fear of being caught in a winter storm and the terror of hearing the command to cut away the mast in order to prevent the ship from being shattered by the blast due to severe stormy wind.

The stanza emphasizes the danger and helplessness of the situation, highlighting the frightening power of the storm and the urgent actions required to survive.

Poetic Devices:

  • Metaphor: The storm is compared to a “rattling trumpet” and the ship being “shattered by the blast” serves as a metaphor for the destructive force of the storm.
  • Alliteration: The repetition of the “t” sound in “rattling trumpet Thunder” creates a sense of urgency and chaos.
  • Personification: The use of “rattling trumpet Thunder” personifies the storm, giving it a menacing and powerful quality.
  • Onomatopoeia: The use of “rattling trumpet Thunder” creates a sense of urgency and loud, chaotic noise, adding to the intensity of the scene.

Stanza 3:

“So, we shuddered there in silence,
For the stoutest held his breath,
While the hungry sea was roaring
And the breakers talked with Death.”


  • shudder: to tremble uncontrollably, especially from fear or cold
  • silence: quietness, the absence of sound
  • stoutest: strongest
  • held his breath: stopped breathing
  • hungry sea: the sea is personified as hungry, suggesting its power and danger
  • roaring: making a loud, continuous sound
  • breakers: waves that break against the shore or a reef
  • Death: the personification of death
  • talked with Death: means the waves were reminding them of their mortality


The passengers tremble and shiver with fear and silence prevailed among passengers as the storm intensifies. Even the bravest among them is holding his breath i.e. shocked. The sea is described as “hungry,” and the breakers (waves) are personified as conversing with Death, indicating the imminent danger.

This stanza captures the intense fear and anticipation of a tragic outcome, as the passengers confront the overwhelming power of the storm and the sea. The use of silence and the description of the sea as “hungry” contribute to the ominous atmosphere. The personification of the breakers talking with Death adds a haunting and symbolic dimension, suggesting a confrontation with mortality and the forces of nature.

Poetic Devices:

  • Personification: The sea is portrayed as “hungry,” giving it human-like qualities and emphasizing its threatening nature.
  • Alliteration: The repetition of the ‘s’ sound in “shuddered” and “silence” adds to the hushed and tense atmosphere.

Stanza 4:

“As thus we sat in darkness,
Each one busy with his prayers,
“We are lost!” the captain shouted
As he staggered down the stairs.”


  • darkness: the absence of light (adding to the fear and uncertainty)
  • busy: engaged in activity
  • prayers: words said to God or a god, asking for something
  • lost: unable to find one’s way, doomed to die
  • captain: the person in charge of a ship
  • staggered: walked unsteadily


The passengers were sitting in the darkness of the storm. Each person is engaged with his prayers for safety and wellbeing. Suddenly, the captain announces the grim realization that they are lost, creating a moment of panic as he descends the stairs with unsteady steps. The captain’s sudden exclamation reveals a sense of despair and impending doom.

The stanza depicts the moment of despair and hopelessness as the captain’s announcement of being lost shatters the last shreds of hope among the passengers.

The darkness symbolizes the uncertainty of the situation, and the passengers’ engagement in prayer reflects their desperation and search for solace. The captain’s proclamation intensifies the sense of despair, marking a critical turning point in the narrative of the stormy situation.

Poetic Devices:

  • Irony: The captain’s proclamation contradicts the hopeful act of praying, adding to the sense of desperation and helplessness.
  • Symbolism: The darkness represents the uncertainty and fear, while the act of praying suggests a desperate appeal for divine intervention.
  • Atmosphere: The darkness and the act of everyone being busy with their prayers intensify the feeling of impending doom and desperation.

Stanza 5:

“But his little daughter whispered,
As she took his icy hand,
“Isn’t God upon the ocean,
Just the same as on the land?”


  • whispered: spoke very softly
  • land: dry ground
  • just the same: no different

The captain’s daughter, in a moment of innocence and faith, questions her dather softly to get affirmation whether God is present on the ocean just as much as on the land, offering a glimmer of hope. The innocent child was just reminding the presence of God and his might everywhere. She reminds him that God’s presence extends to the ocean just as it does on land.

The daughter’s whispered question introduces a ray of hope with faith and resilience in the midst of despair. The young girl’s innocent question challenges the prevailing sense of hopelessness. Her words suggest a belief in the universality of God’s protection and a hopeful perspective in the face of adversity, contrasting with the captain’s earlier proclamation of doom.

Poetic Devices:

  • Symbolism: The captain’s daughter represents innocence, faith, and the possibility of divine intervention in a dire situation. She may also be representing the voice of God conveyed through this innocent child.
  • Dialogue: The daughter’s whisper adds a personal and emotional touch to the poem, contrasting with the general sense of fear and despair.
  • Rhetorical Question: The question posed by the daughter challenges the fear and emphasizes the universality of God’s presence.

Stanza 6:

“Then we kissed the little maiden.
And we spoke in better cheer,
And we anchored safe in harbor
When the morn was shining clear.”

Glossary Notes:

  • kissed: touched with the lips as a gesture to show affection
  • maiden: a little daughter of the captain
  • better cheer: happier & more hopeful mood
  • anchored: secured a ship to the seafloor with an anchor
  • harbour: a sheltered area of water where ships can anchor
  • morn: morning
  • shining clear: bright and sunny


The passengers express gratitude and affection toward the captain’s daughter, and their spirits are lifted as they find renewed hope and feel better with cheer. The mood shifts to a more positive one. The poem ends with the ship safely anchored in the harbour as the morning sun light replaces the previous darkness.

The final stanza concludes the poem on a note of relief and gratitude, highlighting the transformative impact of the little girl’s question and the eventual deliverance from the storm.

The act of kissing the little maiden and speaking in “better cheer” signifies a shift from despair to hope. The safe anchoring in the harbour under clear morning light symbolizes a metaphorical journey from darkness and peril to safety and clarity.

Poetic Devices:

  • Symbolism: The kiss and the shift to better cheer symbolize the renewal of hope and the resilience of the human spirit.
  • Contrast: The contrast between the dark, stormy night and the clear morning emphasizes the triumph over adversity.
  • Resolution: The resolution of the perilous situation and the safe anchoring in harbor signify a shift from despair to hope and safety.
  • Symbolism: The act of kissing the little maiden and the change to “better cheer” symbolize a shift from fear to hope and the resilience of the human spirit.
  • Juxtaposition: The contrast between the stormy night and the clear morning creates a sense of resolution and triumph

In summary, “The Captain’s Daughter” uses vivid imagery, metaphor, personification, and symbolism to portray the harrowing experience of a ship caught in a storm and the transformative power of faith and hope, embodied by the captain’s daughter. The poem beautifully captures the interplay between the literal challenges of a sea voyage and the metaphorical journey of human resilience and optimism in the face of adversity.

Analysis of The Poem

The poem’s imagery effectively conveys the terrifying experience of a ship caught in a violent storm. The use of vivid metaphors like “shattered by the blast,” “rumbling trumpet,” “hungry sea,” and “breakers talking with Death” creates a sense of immediacy and danger.

The contrast between the captain’s despair and his daughter’s unwavering faith serves as a powerful symbol of hope and resilience. The girl’s simple reminder of God’s presence brings a sense of solace and renewed determination to the crew.

The poem’s conclusion, with the ship safely anchored in the harbour as dawn breaks, offers a message of redemption and divine intervention. The storm, which appeared to be an insurmountable force, ultimately gives way to the light of hope and safety.

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