When I heard the tragic news on Monday night about Robin Williams' death, I couldn't believe it. My mind immediately flashed back to my high school English class. I loved that class, and it even played a role in my decision to be an English major in college. It's probably because I had an amazing teacher, who helped me learn to appreciate writing, literature, and symbolism. She also introduced me to another great educator: John Keating. During sophomore year, we watched Dead Poets Society and had to write a paper about it, comparing this movie to John Knowles’ novel A Separate Peace. This sticks out in my memory for two reasons: It wound up being a 20-page paper (meaning it took a long time to write) and more importantly, I was incredibly inspired by Keating. He taught the boys about more than just poetry — he taught them about making the most out of life.
As a way to honor what is arguably one of Williams' best roles, I've decided to round up 11 of the most inspirational quotes from this memorable movie.
"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."
This is just too true. Sure, there are more practical professions, but it's poetry that feeds the soul.
"To quote from Whitman, 'O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; 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. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?"
This is a continuation of the previous quote above. He asks the students to choose how they will be remembered with a powerful question: What will your verse be?
"No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world."
This couldn't ring more true. They're wise words, like those of Mr. Keating, that can change the world.
"There's a time for daring and there's a time for caution, and a wise man understands which is called for."
Keating wasn't afraid to be daring and break the rules, and he inspired the students to do the same.
"Just when you think you know something, you have to look at in another way. Even though it may seem silly or wrong, you must try."
This is Keating's explanation when he tells the students why he stands on the desk. It's not to make himself feel taller, as Dalton guesses. Instead, it's to gain a new perspective.
"But only in their dreams can man be truly free. 'Twas always thus, and always thus will be."
When Mr. McAllister says, "Show me the heart unfettered by foolish dreams and I'll show you a happy man," this is Keating's reply. The teacher guesses Keating is quoting Tennyson, but these words are his own.
"When you read, don't just consider what the author thinks, consider what you think."
It's important for the students to form their own opinions, which is what Keating constantly encourages them to do.
"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!"
Although he's always quoting great writers, Keating is a man of many powerful words himself.
"'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."
Forget formalities. Instead of "sir," Keating wants to be called "O Captain, my captain." One of the best parts of the movie is when the students stand on their desks and call him this at the end.
"Sucking the marrow out of life doesn't mean choking on the bone."
Henry David Thoreau encourages people to make the most of life, but Keating's clarification of this quote is a reminder to not move through life too fast or at a reckless pace.
"Carpe, carpe. Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary."
This is perhaps the most poignant and a reminder to make the most of our days. In the words of Keating, Robin Williams did indeed lead an extraordinary life.
Images: Touchstone Pictures (6), WiffleGif (4)