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Tag Archives: Walt Whitman

O Captain! My Captain!

The character John Keating, played by Robin Williams, used this Walt Whitman poem to set the stage for much of the movie, Dead Poet’s Society.

I do not dispute the original writing of the poem might literally be about the captain’s death and today it pays homage to Robin Williams. The movie did deal with the difficult issue of suicide. Having said this, I think it is important to consider a figurative meaning about teaching which was Keating’s profession in the movie so ably brought to life by Robin Williams.

I critiqued the movie from a teacher’s perspective while completing my Master’s degree. I spoke about the passion teaching brought into my life. I extend this to anything we choose to do. When we lose the spirit and voice that a vocation offers each of us, it is figuratively and literally a death, as well.

I recall using Parker Palmer’s quote about vocation and voice coming from the Latin vocere. Voice gives us life. Robin William’s portrayal of John Keating spoke deeply to me about holding true to the purposes we are called to in life.

                         But O heart! heart! heart!
                            O the bleeding drops of red,
                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
                         Here Captain! dear father!
                            This arm beneath your head!
                               It is some dream that on the deck,
                                 You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
                            But I with mournful tread,
                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.

This is what you shall do

This is not a poem, but Walt Whitman used poetic language and deep meditative thought it qualifies. He used  language in ways that are politically incorrect today, but provided considerable insight into what it might mean to be a servant-leader and live in the world that way.

I become part of the world and it is embodied in me in such remarkable ways as I learn from the world. I think that is the counsel that this passage provides for me and asks of me.

“This is what you shall do: love the earth and the sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning god, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons with the young and the mother of families, read these leaves in the open air every season in every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body…”

A Noiseless, Patient Spider

When I looked for a poem to post, I found this Walt Whitman verse. It reminded me of the writing of Mary Oliver, Parker Palmer, Thomas Merton, Thich Nhat Hanh, and others who write about the quietness needed for the soul to emerge. It is like to a wild animal, perhaps a spider, which is timid and reluctant to emerge as we crash around. As we sit quietly and listen, it emerges for us to see and listen more closely.

A noiseless, patient spider,
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.

Preface to Leaves of Grass

I re-blogged Distraction and Love yesterday. John posted it originally at What is Real True Love? He followed up to comment and left a long, wonderful comment with quotes. What distracts us? I only ask and answer that question when I have the space and solitude. It is in those moments that I can hold my questions and have enough compassion to receive the answers. I was led to this passage by Walt Whitman from John’s comments. I gently question my facts and truths, learned throughout my life in the quiet of meditation and prayer.

I love his beard and hair. When I grow up, I might look like him. I hope to find the wisdom Whitman spoke of so eloquently. Enjoy.

“Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote you income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take your hat off to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul your very flesh shall be a great poem.”

 

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