I just couldn’t sit on this one, even if Walt Whitman Wednesdays sounds catchy. I’ve known this poem since I first heard it years ago in the movie Dead Poets Society starring Robin Williams. A fellow AP English teacher I’ve followed for the past two years shared it in her post this week (along with a WONDERFUL poem by Mary Oliver that I will hold onto for another post closer to the Winter Solstice). Considering the state of the union in America, it’s no surprise that this poem by Whitman, someone who lived through the unrest of The Civil War, resounds so powerfully today. Let the answer of the last two lines resonate deep in your soul. It’s both a reminder and an invitation.
O Me! O Life! by Walt Whitman
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? Answer. That you are here—that life exists and identity, That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
From Leaves of Grass (1892).
POSTSCRIPT: So it turns out I already posted this poem back in January of 2021. I’m usually good at making sure I don’t repeat posts, but the joy of the poem outran the pauser, my detail-oriented self. However, as my wife so aptly pointed out last night, “Perhaps you needed to hear it again?” Yes; perhaps we all need to hear it again. That’s a sign of great poetry: it bears repeating and keeps giving new life.