Пятница Ponderings: O Me! O Life!

 Ponder: to consider something deeply and thoroughly; meditate

Пятница (PYAHT-nee-tsuh): Friday in Russian
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 may contribute a verse.

--Walt Whitman (1855, 1881)

I discovered Walt Whitman in an American Literature class in college. The professor was grumpy and I didn't love the class, but I discovered Whitman in it, so I am grateful.

I have my somewhat battered, but still in good shape, copy of Leaves of Grass. It's one of maybe 3 books I kept from my academic life. And over the years, I still pick it up and read. Whitman speaks to me.

The Artist needed a stack of books to do a photo assignment for his photography class last week. Among the books I chose for him was Leaves of Grass. And because the pages are well worn and familiar pathways, I opened it to this poem.

And this poem, O Me! O Life!, still resonates so much.

Now, I could go into some literary analysis and tell you that Whitman is speaking about the post-Civil War years and the industrialization, etc. And trying to find meaning in everything, as well as telling us to live good lives.

All that has merit. Certainly. 

But, one of the things I love most about literature is how subjective it is. Yes, authors have reasons for writing and their imagery can be specific and we learn about it to hone our critical thinking skills and all that is important. (Except those short stories that scar you for life. I'm looking at you, Faulkner and your stupid, A Rose for Emily. And you Gilman and The Yellow Wallpaper.) 

I love how literature speaks to the individual. What did you think about while reading it? What came to mind? Don't tell me what the author meant, tell me how it affected you? What feelings did it invoke?  

It's one of the reasons I never became a teacher. Well, that and the fact that I don't like other people's children in a classroom setting, so be glad I'm not there.

In O Me! O Life!, Whitman asks the question, Why are we here? What is so good about this place and this life?

Who hasn't ever asked that same question of themselves? I certainly have. There are so many possible answers to that question, especially depending on your specific religious beliefs. But, I'm not here to discuss those. 

I love the last stanza. The Answer

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

Life does exist. You exist. I exist. We exist here, in this moment. You are part of this enormous experience we are all having on this beautiful, amazing planet. That nature came together to create you is wonderful. You have a role in this powerful, ongoing, play. What is that role going to be?

Sometimes our life circumstances are terrible. Sometimes we can't control them. We are going to feel happy, sad, scared, anxious, joyful, mad, terrified, incredulous, amazed. We are going to experience it all.

And from those experiences, what is your verse going to say? Have you ever thought about it? 

Will it say:

That you made a difference? 
That you wasted your opportunities?
That you were kind?
That you were angry?
That you listened?
That you helped people when you could?
That you criticized others and put them down?
That you have regrets? We all do.
That you were open-minded?
That you were closed and rigid?
That you lived only for an after-life and not the present one you're in?
That you loved and learned?
That you cowered and hid?
That you fought back and won?

My verse is probably contradictory and rambling and all over the place. But, ultimately, I
hope it shows change and knowledge and learning; and gratitude, and kindness. That for all my snark and insecurity, there is kindness and love. That I have put more good into this powerful play than I have taken out of it. Perhaps by the time I am finished it will.

The wonderful thing is that our verses are still being written; they are not set in stone and published in the Book of Life yet. I am still working on mine. I hope you are too.

What is your verse going to say? What do you want it to say? 

As you decide, may I offer this suggestion: whatever it is, make it extraordinary.