“The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”
– Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman’s O Me! O Life! is a rousing remonstrance of a self-centered life of faithless, foolish, vain, mean struggle that asks the question, where does the good lie in the midst of this endeavor? Not just a rhetorical question, an answer does come, like a cooling breeze at the end of the poem, couched in simplicity and a positivity that contrasts with the lament of the first part of the poem. ‘That life exists and identity,’ as though someone turned on a spotlight and exposed life and identity for what they really are—a powerful play of which we are all collectively authors.
O Me! O Life!
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.
Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
From: Leaves of Grass