The catalyst for all of my self-loathing was Apple re-airing their commercial in which Robin Williams reads a fragment of Walt Whitman's poem 166. O Me! O Life!. (The voice-over is actually from Williams' role in the 1989 film Dead Poets Society.) In the narration Williams' character is earnest and energized. He quotes loosely from the poem, but leans heavily upon the last stanza, which Whitman has subtitled Answer. It is this stanza which offers the sweeping last line with the lilting cadence. The first stanza, which doesn't get into that ad, is quite different. It is plaintive and despondent. It trudges and stomps along heavily and resignedly. It is downtrodden and sad. I love this poem. It reminds us of our place in the chaos and the teeming crowds. It soothes our despair. It answers our wailing question, "Why, oh why am I here?"
166. 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?
That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
Whitman wanted so much to be the voice of America's Journey. I read him and I get tears in my eyes. His feeling is so profound, whether it is joy or love or pain. It will comfort me always to read his promise in Song of Myself #52: "Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged,/Missing me one place search another,/I stop somewhere waiting for you."
And he does. This morning in my Plain Dealer, I saw this--
FRAZZ by Jef Mallett
--and I smiled. O Me! O Walt! O Life!
I am giving some serious thought to declaring the month of June "Dept. of Nance Poetry Month." Each week, I'll toss up a poem by a different poet and chat about it, then invite you to comment and share your own favourites. Perhaps those among you with your own sites might like to join in. Tell me your thoughts on this proposition and Walt Whitman's poem in Comments. Or talk to me about poetry, poems, a poet/poets or a favourite poem or poet. It all sounds lovely to me.