“What Will Your Verse Be?” Robin Williams Made Me Want to Seize the Day.

Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 11 2014 9:19 PM

“What Will Your Verse Be?”

Robin Williams
Robin Williams died of an apparent suicide Monday afternoon.

© 1989 - Touchstone Pictures

There’s too much to say about Robin Williams, found dead on Monday afternoon of an apparent suicide. There are so many facets to his career and his persona. There’s the comedy prodigy who forged a legendary reputation in the ’70s and ’80s, the loony impressionist whose verbal pyrotechnics anchored Aladdin and Good Morning Vietnam, the solemn leading man with a twinkle in his eye who would become one of the finest dramatic actors of his generation.

Advertisement

The Robin Williams I may most remember, though, is an English teacher who inspired his students to seize the day. In Dead Poets Society, Williams plays unorthodox professor John Keating, who rejects the conservative culture of the elite Welton Academy and implores his students to strive for meaning in their lives. In the film’s pivotal scene, Williams tells his students that “we don't read and write poetry because it’s cute, we read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.” He goes on to quote Walt Whitman’s “O Me! O Life!,” a poem that ends by speaking directly to its readers: “the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.” Williams then turns to his students and asks the mother of all inspirational questions: “What will your verse be?”

Perhaps you’re thinking today of Williams the great comedian or the unbelievable impressionist or the movie star. But whatever you remember him for, the man wrote one hell of a verse.

Sharan Shetty is a writer for Brow Beat. You can follow him on Twitter

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?