Walt Whitman has been flitting about my consciousness for quite some time. I believe I had a bit of Whitman in high school but not much afterwards. Yet over the decades I keep stumbling over him. The Dead Poet’s Society is one of my favorite films and one of my favorite scenes is Robin Williams as Mr. Keating reciting lines from Whitman’s poem, “Oh me! Oh life!”
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
So, this has compelled me to involve myself in a little self-education project. I am currently studying the poetry of Walt Whitman and his influence on American poetry. Stylistically, Whitman popularized Free Verse. Yes, yes, I know some of you hate free verse. But Whitman was a man who liked challenging tradition. He was not from an upper-class background with a classical education. He was a “typical Joe Average” man. He wrote of individualism, idealism, and democracy. Those themes have permeated American culture and Whitman had a big hand in that.
Off I go now to read “Song of Myself”, considered to be his greatest work.
If you have 45 minutes and want to watch a high school-level introduction to Walt Whitman (which is quite accessible), I recommend this one:
And here is the aforementioned scene from The Dead Poet Society that turned me on to Walt.
ljgloyd (c) 2019