Wednesday, May 21, 2014

O Me! O Life! O Well! How Apple Reminded Me To Celebrate Myself And Sing Myself And, Belatedly, Some Poetry

Today I realized that April is National Poetry Month, and that I had missed it entirely. Worse than that,even, I couldn't recall if I had bothered to mention or commemorate it last year or, heaven help me, the year before. I have turned into a terrible excuse for a lover of les belles-lettres.

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.


  1. Great idea! I love Mary Oliver, and have just now drawn a blank on any other names. Embarrassing, especially as I'm an English teacher! Lead on!

  2. As a bona fide English major I'd love it if you declared June to be Poem Month. It'd be kind of a trip down memory lane for me. I haven't read them in years, so a refresher course would do me good.

  3. I've never been into poetry. To me, the ultimate literalist, poetry has to rhyme. My favorite poem is Robert Service's, "The Cremation of Sam McGee".

    I get frustrated when I read poetry that doesn't rhyme. I have no appreciation for poetry; I hate to admit it. It reveals me as a barbarian and a dullard. But I like clarity in my reading and to me, poetry isn't clarity.

    Okay, I'm 63 and I doubt I'll change. But I'm all for others enjoying what they see as the beauty of poetry. Go to it, all you lovers of Walt Whitman!

  4. I'm all for June poetry month! Designated days and months for "things" are great reminders, but so limiting if you stick to them. While poetry is not always something I read, there are some poems that simple take my breath away and I love it when that happens!


  5. Shirley gfe--Some poems make me uncomfortable, too. Some can make me irritable (I'm looking at you, Thomas Hardy and William Wordsworth!), and some can bring me such depth of feeling that I cannot even name it. My own poetry is far and away so pedestrian compared with the latter that I am envious and almost embarrassed. Thanks for stopping and jotting a comment! I know how busy you are these days.

    phoebes--Being lukewarm at best about poetry certainly does not make you a dullard and a barbarian. I am not in any way an appreciative audience of primitive or modern art. The work of artists such as Mondrian and Pollock especially escape me and make me almost angry. Why oh why is that ART? Especially when those artists' works are compared to DaVinci or Vermeer? The same happens to me with regard to poetry, and I have argued heatedly against colleagues and family members who dismiss some of my favourite poets as hacks.

    Quite simply, it is a matter of taste. Imagine, my son Jared dismisses the Beatles and their music! To me and my sister, that is heresy and treason. I refuse to acknowledge rap as "music" because it lacks, for me, musicality and melodiousness. He calls me a narrow-minded Philistine. Such it is.

    AllyBean-I could never take you all the way down The Lane. There are so many, and new ones are coming all the time. We will all try to do our best. I hope you'll join in enthusiastically (and expertly) in Comments.

    Rose--Not embarrassing at all. English teachers teach Life, of which poetry is but a slice. I was not even familiar with Mary Oliver until I was introduced to her at your site. Thank you for that. I hope we introduce you to many more once we all ring in with our favourites.

  6. Oh boy oh boy - maybe I'll get inspired to write again!

    I thought of you when I read that Frazz - ha!

  7. Walt is wonderful. I have not read him in ages and went to grab my Leaves of Grass after reading this. Something for everyone there.

    I am also a fan of Emily.

    My faves in Spanish are Sor Juana, Quevedo, and García Lorca. There are some good translations out there, but most don't satisfy me the same as the original, except for García Lorca. Here's a link to a sample of his work translated into English:

    CLINK THE GLASS: Oh, dear Lord, when will people let go of Benghazi? H.C. is not responsible for the random killing of the Americans in the embassy. Let's put the finger of blame where it really belongs, to wit:

    FACT: House Republicans voted to cut nearly $300 million from the U.S. embassy security budget before the attack in Benghazi.

    FACT: Most of the the Benghazi die-hards in congress voted to send US troops into Iraq where nearly 5000 Americans and 500,000 civilians lost their lives for NOTHING. Except to line the pockets of Bush's cronies who earned a truckload of money on the inevitable re-construction work. How can these people get so worked up about 4 people who died through no fault of our own OR Hillary's, and not even blink for over 4000 troops who died through every fault of our own?

    Yes, it is very sad about Benghazi. But it is not Hillary's fault. Iraq IS Bush's fault, and had far more atrocious and far-reaching consequences. #end political rant#

  8. Oh, let's do June as poetry month, and you designate a day each week! I'm all over that like a duck on a June bug.

  9. J@jj--I love, love, love that expression. Firstly, I do have a thing for ducks in general, be they real, rubber, mallard, or baby. (Especially charming are the fuzzy yellow baby ones...sigh.) Secondly, the mental image of a duck intently pursuing a large bug is just the best. Thank you!

    So glad for your enthusiasm. Poetry in June sounds like a winner.

    Ortizzle--I like your profile pic.
    Very sultry and sexy. I hope you did it just for me.

    I often wondered, back in The Day, why awards were given for translations. I've since realized why. It must be incredibly difficult to capture the nuances of the language of an entire work, like a poem, and preserve the style, cadence, voice, metaphors, etc. I would be overwhelmed at the start.

    Thanks for the link, and I will definitely give it my full attention. I am quite the poetry whore, really, and unlike my prim ways with fiction, I read anyone, current or classic, in verse.

    RE: Sidebar commentary. I've completely given up on the republicans now. I never confessed it, but I did hold out hope that a few would tell the teapartiers to go fuck themselves and finally pull the g.o.p back over from the extreme right after the bullshit shutdown, sequester, etc. But now, I see that the whole party has gone idiot. I'm actually afraid of the true diehards. The fact that mitch mcconnell won his seat again really makes me wonder if the stupid people are overbreeding.

    My only hope is that they all shoot each other with their guns.

    Bug--Thank you so much for thinking of me. Now I am smiling like a big old bulldog.

    You are the opposite of me. When I read wonderful poems, I become hopelessly intimidated and lose my will to write poetry. So, good for you! Write away!

  10. Even though my degree is in English Lit, I really don't like poetry. That made for some really boring classes.

    I have come to appreciate some of it, though, and Robert Frost and ee cummings are my two favorite poets.

    Oh, and I enjoyed "Divine Comedy" and "Canterbury Tales" although due to the translation process, I see them more as stories than poems. Well, "Tales" does have some prose, but you know what I mean.

  11. Nance, I know that I can never write anything as lovely or as powerful as the masters have written, but it stirs the juices nonetheless. I think it's because I'm so NOT a Type A Person that I can use great poetry to inspire me instead of defeat me - I just want to get the words out & I don't really care if it's more Erma Bombeck than Wordsworth :)

    You've already inspired me a bit - I wrote this after my Daily Walk around the neighborhood:

    The barking dog
    The mown lawn
    The guerilla squash
    Not the wild-ed-ness
    My heart craves
    But the birdsong
    Is loud and draws my
    Ear to the tree branch
    Against that brilliant blue.
    I could be anywhere at all.

  12. Profile pic: tee, hee. Of course. And also because I was getting tired of seeing the old one on every site I have to post a pic on. This one is also a selfie, but I got smart this time and layered it with kindness and sepia, lol.

    @Bug: love your poem!

  13. Ortizzle--All my selfies look like nineteenth century mugshots.

    Bug--I love the squash line and it leaves me wondering if it is the vegetable or the game. I kind of don't want to know.

    The whole poem is very Walt-esque, expressing your own need to yawp now and then! I like it.

    Gina--I personally know an English teacher who hates Shakespeare. And I am her friend, and she is mine. Talk about making for some boring classes--the poor woman had to teach it for years and years.

    At least I could skirt the Transcendentalists, my own Yawners.

    Bless you for your affection for the Tales. I'm afraid I don't share it.

    I hope I find a good poem that you enjoy. And I love cummings and Frost, too. So much more to "Two roads..." than most people know.


Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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