Wednesday, August 18, 2010

O Captain, my Captain!

I have been fascinated by Walt Whitman since the first time I watched Dead Poets Society ages and ages ago at the behest of C. This wild-haired, bright-eyed monkish figure that loomed above Robin Williams' classroom, a figure Williams' enthusiastic revolutionary of a teacher used in frequent memorable scenes to inspire his impressionable young students. Last week, I bought a Wilco Classics edition of Leaves of Grass from the Crossword sale and I intend to read it in its entirety. But much like my textbooks, I find it impossible to read any manner of poetry at a stretch becoz for me, it demands more concentration of thought than I can supply for longer than an hour. Otherwise, I feel like I am not reading it with the sort of passionate attention that it surely deserves.

So, for the present, I am content to read his poems from my trusty poemhunter ebook, like I usually do, sporadically and hopefully, with the kind of joyful focus it calls for.

Having read many of his lines like the lovely Song of Myself where he says "For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you", I now think that he was an incredibly learned man, as much aware of the world of science that governed the exterior as he was understanding of the innermost questions, thoughts and workings of his own personal world, literally, "insightful" and "introspective".

This poem by Whitman holds sway over my imagination since first I heard it in the film, I suddenly thought of it again today. Isn't it wonderful?

O Me! O Life!

O Me! O 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.

The lines of the answer fill me with this strange soaring feeling, it is like a knowledge that others have pondered what I have pondered and that Whitman gives a most reassuring answer, dont you think? :)

9 comments:

Tattva said...

My favourite lines are:

Have you reckon'd a thousand acres much? have you reckon'd the earth much?
Have you practis'd so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of
all poems


Whitman is one brilliant pick-me-up.

T. said...

would u believe i got it too? incredible isnt it? i was tempted they had that get 2 free on buying 3 thing! :-D

my favorite lines are these.

"What is that you express in your eyes? It seems to me more than all the words I have read in my life."

ah lovely Whitman!

you have good taste :) n i can understand tht bit abt poetry needing to be read with passion n joy. but like Austen says "Poetry is unfortunately adored mostly by those who are most easily affected by it."

Sherry Wasandi said...

O Nostalgia!

Dear K, you must be thanked for this post.

Old Fitz said...

I sound my barbaric YAWP over the rooftops of the world.

Also from Song of Myself I suppose.

ramya sriram said...

it's lovely :)

Anil P said...

Unlike a book of prose, a book of verse will demand an entirely different vein of application. I read him in several short stretches.

And how well his verse applies to everyday living, even now. Timeless in a way.

Tangled up in blue... said...

Tattva, agreed. Those lines are lovely, the more I read the more I fall in love with his writing!

T., you're saying that coz you bought the same book! :P Okay, so you have good taste, too. And Austen says it like its a bad thing..which its most definitely not. Maybe its the other way around, like conventional people wud assume, maybe people who are most easily affected by it are the people who adore it most. That makes sense, right? :)

Tangled up in blue... said...

Sherry, :)

Old Fitz, yes, I agree, that is a most memorable line, yes.

Tangled up in blue... said...

ramya, yes, it is. :)

Anil, I understand. Thats perhaps how I'll go about reading it, too. And I think thats the test of great writing. How true it rings when read in a different time and place from one in which it was written. The universality of it, so to speak.