Tag Archives: Henry David Thoreau

Dead Poets Society: ‘But only in their dreams can men truly be free…’

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One of Robin Williams most inspiring films, Dead Poets Society is about an unconventional English teacher -John Keating (played by Williams) and his students who are inspired by their teacher’s very original method of appreciating poetry and other deeper things in life.

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John Keating: We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.

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McAllister: “Show me the heart unfettered by foolish dreams and I’ll show you a happy man.”

John Keating: “But only in their dreams can men be truly free. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus will be.”

McAllister: Tennyson?

John Keating: No, Keating.

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John Keating : “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

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 John Keating: There’s a time for daring and there’s a time for caution, and a wise man understands which is called for.

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Henry David Thoreau

In movie, in one scene a poem by Henry David Thoreau is featured in a book lying on a students desk, however in reality it is a collection of extracts from his work “Where I Lived”, Chapter 2 :

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, …”

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John Keating: They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? – – Carpe – – hear it? – – Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.

The phrase ‘carpe diem’ is a Latin aphorism usually translated to “seize the day”, taken from a poem in the Odes book 1, number 11) in 23 BC by the poet Horace which goes like this….”be wise, be truthful, strain the wine, and scale back your long hopes to a short period. While we speak, envious time will have {already} fled: seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the next day”

Horace was a leading Roman poet at the time of Augustus.

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Horace

John Keating: Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!

Henry David Thoreau was an American writer and philosopher, and the full quote is :

‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.’

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In one scene, one of Keating’s student – Todd Anderson under his teacher’s cajoling composes the following poem impromptu: 

A sweaty-toothed madman with a stare that pounds my brain.

His hands reach out and choke me.

And all the time he’s mumbling.

Mumbling truth.

Truth like a blanket that always leaves your feet cold.

You push it, stretch it, it’ll never be enough. You kick at it, beat it, it’ll never cover any of us. From the moment we enter crying to the moment we leave dying, it’ll just cover your face as you wail and cry and scream.

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John Keating: This is a battle, a war, and the casualties could be your hearts and souls.

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John Keating: Language was developed for one endeavor, and that is – Mr. Anderson? Come on, are you a man or an amoeba?

[pause]

John Keating: Mr. Perry?

Neil: To communicate.

John Keating: No! To woo women!

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John Keating: O Captain, my Captain. Who knows where that comes from? Anybody? Not a clue? It’s from a poem by Walt Whitman about Mr. Abraham Lincoln. Now in this class you can either call me Mr. Keating, or if you’re slightly more daring, O Captain my Captain.

O Captain ! My Captain !

By Walt Whitman

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.

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