What’s It All About, Alfie?
What Will Be Your Verse?

Six decades ago, I was in high school. My English teachers had an assignment each semester, which involved memorizing 100-lines of poetry or prose. It was our choice what we chose to memorize. Therefore, each of us would pick readings that we liked.

O Me! O Life!
By Walt Whitman
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains 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?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

I read Whitman’s poem…and never memorized it. I didn’t even try. It didn’t make sense to me at all. However, for each semester, I memorized, reluctantly, many poems and prose. In fact, I hated that exercise. Nevertheless, as I write this essay in my twilight years, I can still recite quite closely the words of various writers that I memorized nearly six decades ago.

Halfway between high school and now, I went to see Dead Poet’s Society. This is the poster of that movie, which hangs in my home.

I loved Dead Poet’s Society. Interestingly, Professor John Keating recited Whitman’s poem that I didn’t like in the movie as his postscript in his lecture to his class.

While I understood what Keating was asking regarding what verse will his students contribute to “the powerful play” called life, it still didn’t grab me. “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary” grabbed me. Nonetheless, Whitman’s “Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring…” didn’t cause me to question anything.

Life is about contributing a verse.

Others, in the world in which I grew up, have wondered and wandered their worlds not grasping meaning either. Alfie was one in the lost souls in the mid-60s. Alfie was a movie about a person who was lost in life. His life was merely aimless wandering. The title song was an attempt to give Alfie a purpose in life, which he lacked.

What's it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give
Or are we meant to be kind?
And if only fools are kind, Alfie
Then I guess it is wise to be cruel
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie
What will you lend on an old golden rule?
As sure as I believe there's a heaven above, Alfie
I know there's something much more,
Something even non-believers can believe in
I believe in love, Alfie
Without true love we just exist, Alfie
Until you find the love you've missed you're nothing, Alfie
When you walk let your heart lead the way
And you'll find love any day, Alfie

I thought back in the 60s that I had a purpose. Issues like the civil rights movement motivated me. While those types of causes were and still are valid, I am different in my twilight years. George Bernard Shaw influenced me. He wrote, “Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

There are many reasons for this transformation. Over a decade ago, I danced with death twice. Once that I realized that I had done the dance, it made a vast difference in the way I live life and what I see as valuable in the world around me.

Keating warns all of us, “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!”

So, in closing, what will be your lines contributed to “the powerful play” called life?

Here are several lines of verse contributed by two presidents to “the powerful play” called life. Click on Tricky Dicky or Donald the Dumb for their lyrical addition to our world.

Two presidential contributors of a verse

On Seeing the Light

On Seeing the Light

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Best of Times

Best and Worst of Times

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Connecting The Dots

Connecting the Dots

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Donald the Dumb

Donald the Dumb

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Forrest Gump Film Poster

Forrest Gump, "Stupid is as stupid does."

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The Last Lecture

The Last Lecture

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Dancing with Death

Dancing with Death

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