I first heard of this from one of my favorite movies: Dead Poets Society. Robin Williams is a teacher at a prep school and says the following to his class,
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?
Start at 3:45
I’ve always wondered about the delivery of the Whitman especially the part that goes
Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity;
How does he end that phrase with “and identity”? It sounds odd but I like it. I think the way it’s phrased emphasizes the existence of identity as a reason for continuing to put up with bullshit…especially from people.
This particular part of the Whitman is actually the ending. I think it’s more meaningful if you see the main ending
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.
It’s even better if you read the whole poem, which I am not pasting here just so my web source can get more page views:
O Me! O Life!
WARNING: SPOILER ALERT (This is about Dead Poets Society)
Maybe something, maybe nothing: If this poem is about putting up with the bad stuff in life, then does it condemn Neil for committing suicide? Symbolically, it makes sense that he kills himself because Neil lives for “poetry, beauty, romance, love” and his parents are forcing him to choose another path. But the question emphasized is “O me! so sad, recurring-What good amid these, O me, O life” as in what’s the point, why should I keep on living? Then “Answer.” Maybe the point is about identity. Neil can’t contribute a verse because he can’t be who he wants to be?