“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.
What will your verse be?”
(John Keating from the “Dead Poets Society”)
I was in high school when I first saw this movie. I’ll never forget it. It made me fall in love with language, verse, voice, writing and teaching against the stream. As a young woman, I was inspired by the spirit of Carpe Diem, sucking the marrow of life and not choking on the bone, living deliberately and not being afraid to speak or write or think for myself. I loved watching the boys change from amoeba to men. I ripped pages too, closed my eyes, read poetry aloud and dared to do what I wanted to do when they did.
As a teacher in my thirties, it is Mr. Keating who moves me. His love for those boys, his passion for verse, his commitment to language and refusing to be ordinary — especially in his teaching — these are the things that resonate with me today. It might be a cliche’ to some, showing “Dead Poets Society” to class for my poetry unit, but I really don’t care. Whoever teacher or friend or sibling introduced this movie to me, I thank you today. Because now, like oral tradition, it’s my turn to share my experience with Neil and Todd and Nuwanda and Knox Overstreet and Mr. Keating and Walt Whitman and Thoreau and Robert Frost and Carpe Diem with my 21st century kids. 🙂 Poetry may look and sound different today and that’s fine but the power of the verse and the stuff of epiphanies through the verse (strict or free) remain the same. Thank you, Tom Schulman for writing the screenplay (which was nominated for an Academy Award and which won for Best Writing, (screenplay written directly for the screen) in 1989).
This is my favorite scene. Mr. Keating and terrified Todd Anderson, having a go at reciting Todd’s own piece (which he composed on the spot, inspired by a picture of Walt Whitman) in front of the class. It took everything from me to not tear up in class as we watched this morning.
I close my eyes and this image floats beside me
The sweaty-toothed madman with a stare that pounds my brains
His hands reach out and choke me
And all the time he’s mumbling
Truth, like a blanket that always leaves your feet cold.
You push it, stretch it, it will never be enough
Kick it beat it, it will never cover any of us.
From the moment we enter crying, to the moment we leave dying,
it will just cover your face
as you wail and cry and scream.
grateful slice: inspiration and poetry
p.s. What inspired you today? I’d love to hear about it.