Oh Me – Oh Life – Walt Whitman

It is interesting that so often we dismiss literature, movies, poetry, experiences that happened before our life time, as out-moded – out of date and irrelevant.

Children assume that movies in black and white can’t possibly be entertaining and business books written before the age of technology are useless. But every once and awhile – those myths are proven to be just that…myths.

Recently a poem by Walt Whitman has been used in a television commercial. The poem Oh Me! Oh Life! was written in the 1800s. Long before Twitter and YouTube were even a concept, but there is a phrase that should give us pause and it is the last stanza of the poem:

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

Robin Williams quotes a portion of this poem in Dead Poets Society and asks the question “What will your verse be?”

 

As we start a new day, a new week, a new month, we should ask ourselves the same question. What will our verse be?

How will we make a difference?

What legacy will be ours?

There was a woman who worked in the corporate office of a chain of retail stores as the Director of Store Operations. It was a position of much responsibility but little glamour. She worked long hours and often went without recognition for her efforts.

Her father once asked her why she worked so hard for very little reward. “The stores don’t have your name over the door.”

She replied “Because if I gave any less to my role within the company, it wouldn’t be who I am.”

In the end she did make a difference. She changed communication methods, she broke down department silos and improved relationships across functional areas, all of which had a positive impact at the store level.

The company was eventually sold and everything she did was changed, but at the time, she contributed a verse and it made a difference.

Can we do any less?

What will you do?

Here is the poem in its entirety:

Oh Me! Oh Life!

Oh me! O life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless traines 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?

Answer.

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

by Walt Whitman