Friday, January 31, 2014

O Me! O Life! by Walt Whitman

Oh me! Oh life! Of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of the cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
O 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 may contribute a verse.

On the Poet and his Work: Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892), over the course of his life, worked at many careers – journalist, government clerk, volunteer nurse. He started writing his magnum opus – Leaves of Grass – in 1850, but would continue to add to it all his life. From a slim anthology of twelve poems, it burgeoned to a collection of over four hundred.

Whitman was influenced by both Transcendentalism and Romanticism, but his voice is unmistakably his own. His use of free verse is reminiscent of the sonorous cadence of the Bible; yet his subjects, language, and imagery are startlingly direct and sensual. He exalts both man and universe, and identifies himself with the vast sprawl of humanity around him.

On this poem: The poem is simplicity itself – the quest for meaning, for purpose in existence. The poet asks himself, and finds in himself the answer:

That you are here – that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

On a Personal Note: Beautiful ideas expressed here – there is no dance without a dancer; no song without a singer; existence is reason in itself – what you choose to do with it is up to you.

It may give rise to another question – is it that one’s work or vocation gives a sense of purpose and makes life worthwhile? Or is that the life gives significance to the work - meaning that the individual renders unique with his passion that which is not impossible for others to do?  Or, as Whitman says elsewhere in Leaves of Grass, “Your very flesh shall be a great poem”.

Some questions are easier asked than answered, but there is no doubt that the truth in Whitman’s poem is as relevant today as it was when it was written.
I came across this poem again most unexpectedly in a recent Apple i pad air commercial. If you have not seen it yet, it can be viewed on BTL’s Facebook page. The commercial is worth watching, merely as proof that poetry, passion, and creativity are as vitally alive as ever.

No comments: