From "O Captain! My Captain!" by Walt Whitman:

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;

While I cannot recall any concrete examples at the moment, I do remember encountering the prefix "a-" in poetry a couple of times before. Can anyone explain what it is all about?

  • 2
    Add the syllable to make the meter come out right. Actually, "a(verb)ing" was quite common in the past.
    – GEdgar
    Feb 4, 2017 at 2:24

1 Answer 1


This a- prefix was derived from Old English, a time when there was a lot more inflection (see also this source).

With a verb, it's called a-verbing. You can actually just ignore the prefix and treat it as a regular gerund:

for you the shores [are] crowding

See also:

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