Dead Poet’s Society premiered 22 years ago today. Funny to think how few people knew what Carpe Diem meant before Robin Williams stood on a desk and shouted it at his students.
I LOVED that movie. And by that I mean, I LOVE that movie. Passionately. The boys coming of age, fighting against authority, learning to think, Beethoven’s 9th symphony, beautiful lines of Tennyson spoken by a beautiful boy in a cave lit with flashlights, Midsummer’s Night Dream (my favorite Shakespeare play), the tragic suicide and the redemptive ending. Gorgeous. Robin Williams chewed the scenery and Ethan Hawke kept that stance at the end with the camera on him for what feels like minutes without wavering and without a freeze frame. Fierce.
Given all this, naturally I’m going to celebrate dead poets today. It’s hard to celebrate the movie unless I dress up the dog and the kids and force them into recreating some scenes, although I could totally envision them hoisting Caesar Chavez in the air and running through the house while I play Ode to Joy. But the kids were at school all day and dressing up the dog twice in one week is pushing this blog dangerously close to William Wegman territory.
I have a bracelet that says Carpe Diem on it (of course) but wearing it isn’t much of a story. I’ve already evaded my urges to tag things (though that would be a perfect activity to celebrate DPS) so that leaves me with actual dead poets and poetry.
Then I found Walter Skold who calls himself “The Dead Poet Guy” and founded the Dead Poet’s Society in America (a name he “partly” attributes to the movie). He took a month in 2010 to drive his Poemobile 6,500 miles, visit 75 dead poet gravesites and hold Dead Poet bashes in 19 states, a situation I can’t even mock because it too closely resembles a trip I took recently.
But if Walter Skold can hold 19 Dead Poet bashes and visit 75 graves in a month, I figured I could find a dead poet close by and pay my respects today. Shortly thereafter, and due in large part to Mr. Skold’s documentation, I found out that 1931’s Poet Laureate of Washington State lived here in Bellingham and is buried about 5 miles from this house.
Ah, Bellingham. Where would my holiday celebrations be without you? You always deliver!
A little research revealed some poetry from the lovely Ella Rhoads Higginson. I loved a piece called The Opal Sea because I can visualize all the places she speaks about, but her most famous piece is 4 Leaf Clover. I looked up her gravesite at Bayview Cemetery (Section M, Lot 931, Grave 8) and then thought about what to bring her. I couldn’t find anything with a 4 leaf clover on it so I bought some green votive candles to arrange in a clover-ish shape
and picked her some local wildflowers.
Finding her grave wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be. Bayview Cemetery is gigantic but her gravesite is right by a pathway. I left her flowers and lit the candles:
And read her those beautiful lines from Tennyson’s Ulysses because I thought she might like them. Then I just stayed with her for awhile thinking about what it means “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” and how odd it felt to be visiting the gravesite of someone I’d just heard of more than 70 years after their death. And now she’s entered into my holiday month of bloggy madness. I wonder how she would feel about that. It’s mind boggling how far reaching someone’s life and work can be.
In the spirit of keeping memories alive , I encourage you to watch Dead Poet’s Society, read some poetry, write some poetry or visit the grave of a local dead poet to pay your respects. Barring that, go buy some jewelry that says Carpe Diem.
And then go do it.