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barbaric yawp

To quote some more from Walt Whitman's endlessly quotable 'Song of Myself' (see previous post):

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The second line was immortalized in Peter Weir's 'Dead Poets Society', where Keating (Robin Williams) uses it to help one of his students, Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke), over his shyness, culminating in an impromptu poem with Whitman as a "sweaty-toothed madman." (Watch the whole scene here.)

Whitman is quoted at length in the film ("Uncle Walt again!"), besides Thoreau, Frost and others. In fact, 'Dead Poets Society' can be viewed as rekindling the American Transcendentalist ideas (see also previous post) of individuality, nonconformity and carpe diem in the context of a 1950's prep school, evoking the same culture stifled by tradition that the 19th century poets found themselves rebelling against.

In line with its Romantic philosophy, nature plays a subtle but significant role in the film. Taking place over the course of a fall semester, the story's drama is reflected in the beautiful cinematography of the changing seasons, from Indian summer to harsh winter. The cave where the members of the Dead Poets Society convene is off-campus, tucked away in the woods and bringing to mind Thoreau's famous statement from 'Walden': "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately..." And the play one of the characters, Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), performs in is 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', where Perry plays Puck, "that shrewd and knavish sprite" living in the forest.

For an in-depth study of the conflict of Romantic and Realist philosophy in 'Dead Poets Society', see 'Death of a Romantic'.


what is the grass?

A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands; How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he. I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven. Or I gue… Read the full post »

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