In light of the news of Robin Williams death, the scene from Dead Poets Society and the Walt Whitman poem seem so appropriate, so melancholy and so poignant.
Here is the classic scene from Dead Poets Society.
Whitman wrote “O Captain! My Captain!” after the Civil War about Abraham Lincoln. He rejoiced over the good that was done, but mourned the loss of Lincoln’s life.
O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! My Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
And how fitting are the words of Williams’ John Keating from that film and the poem from which he and his students read.
In teaching them carpe diem, to seize the day, he has them read from “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” by Robert Herrick.
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.
Voices long since dead and so recently fallen, they whisper to us “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your life extraordinary.”
Or to put it another way, “For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.