For those of you who like films from the ‘80s, one of the more thought-provoking releases was 1989’s “Dead Poets Society,” starring Robin Williams and a very young Ethan Hawke. Williams plays John Keating, a poetry teacher at a private school for boys, who inspires his students to examine their lives of conformity, and “Seize the day!”
I found myself watching this movie recently, probably for the second time in my life (the first being 20 years ago) and, not having any recollection of the plot, was surprised to discover so many juicy references to creative thinking and spirited life, as conveyed by our poet-forefathers.
In “Dead Poets Society,” John Keating tells his students that they’re not in the class simply to learn the rhyme and meter of poetry, but that they read and write poetry because they are passionate humans who live for beauty, romance and love! He quotes Walt Whitman’s poem “O Me, O Life!” which questions the purpose of living lives of sadness and reproach, filled with empty years surrounded by the struggling masses, all craving something more light-filled. What’s the good in it?
“That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you may* contribute a verse.”
[ * In the film, the word used is “may” but online sources indicate the word is “will,” which in my opinion is a stronger and more logical choice.]
Keating asks his students, “What will your verse be?”
You Exist and You Are Unique
When a person removes all external factors from their life, clears trauma and beliefs from their inner world, and takes a good look inside, that is where the true Self is found. Your unique soul. This is what Whitman was referring to in his answer. All that matters in the grander scheme is that you exist, and that you are here for your uniqueness—to leave your perfect and individual soul imprint within the scenes that make up life.
It doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me that Whitman’s answer parallels Shakespeare:
"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.”
When you view the world from a macro perspective, considering the roles and deeper meanings of individuals, nations, smaller societies, and other groups, it really is like one big performance, one big story, across the ages. Yet every microcosm affects the whole. As do the choices we make in living our lives. Our contributions are an expression of how much we choose to live aligned with our true selves, or natural desires, our passion and love!
What are the consequences to yourself and the whole when you choose conformity over your unique identity? Keating illustrated to the students how easy it is to conform by having three students walk together in a courtyard, and within moments their steps had synchronized, and the rest of the class began clapping in time. It’s akin to the syncing of metronomes, or clock pendulums, when their resonance is communicated via a common surface.
What will your verse be? Will you synchronize with the resonance of the greater world, or will you align to your own inner mechanism? Keating acknowledged the difficulty in maintaining one’s beliefs in the face of others, but he told his students, “You must trust that your beliefs are unique—your own—even though others may think them odd, or unpopular” and reminded them of the testament by another notable poet, Robert Frost, who wrote so famously: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
So if you've landed here and haven't considered it yet...What will your verse be?
This article Copyright © Cheryl E. Kraynak