Walt Whitman, via Robin Williams

Recently, many of us were shocked by the death of Robin Williams. Many of us have favorite movie moments of the actor/comedian, remembering him best from Good Morning, VietnamMrs. DoubtfireAladdin. I remember being influenced by his stand-up routines on HBO back in the 80s (probably a bit young to be watching them) but the most profound performance for me has to be from Dead Poets Society. And in this movie, a greater appreciation for poetry and its power grew for me, especially for a poet I’ve already showcased: Walt Whitman.


As the new English teacher in a stodgy, tradition-filled all-boys private school, Williams’ character teaches his students to break free and discover themselves…mainly through poetry and poetic expression. Frequently he uses Walt Whitman’s works in his teachings. Recently, iPad Air even used a monologue from the movie in their commercial. And by the time you read this, I have a feeling the scene will be trending greatly on social media.


Me and Walt in his one-time hometown of Camden, New Jersey.
Me and Walt in his one-time hometown of Camden, New Jersey.

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!…of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless…of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?”


Answer: that you are here; that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse”. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?


As stated before, Whitman wrote frequently on the world around him…all the sights, sounds, and experiences. Think about all your experiences. Think about your legacy. In our short lives, take the time to soak it all in, and have it shape you. And think about what is it that you will leave behind as a result of these experiences.


NOTE: I don’t even own an iPad, nor want one. So trust me I am not trying to get you to buy one. But if you’d like to hear this narration over a pretty captivating video, check out the commercial, via YouTube.

Main Image: Public Domain/U.S. Navy

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