Before I begin, watch this video below. If it won’t play, don’t worry. I’ll do my best to describe it in my post:
The above video is an ad for the Infiniti Q60, a car I know nothing about other than that it looks nice in the video (don’t they all?). So obviously this is not an endorsement of Infiniti. What this ad is to me is a reminder that I am indeed a Classic Lit. Nerd.
For those who don’t know, I work part time at a movie theater. There are two wide-screen monitors mounted in our lobby that loop a series of ads, about fifteen minutes worth of commercials, music videos, movie trailers and trivia. Amid the mostly easily tuned out ads, there is this little gem. Now, if you are able to watch the video you might be prematurely anticipating my reaction the first time I saw it.
“Hey, that’s Jon Snow from Game of Thrones!”
Of course I knew it was Jon Snow (Kit Harington), but that’s not what sparked my enthusiasm, although his performance in the commercial is commendable. No, what captured my heart was the immediate recognition of William Blake’s poem “The Tyger” (minus the final stanza). You can read the entire poem here.
So, out loud, I said, “Hey, William Blake!”
My wife, who is not a Game of Thrones fan, does not read classic literature, and has never been interested in owning an Infiniti, just said, “What?”
“That poem,” I said, “it’s by William Blake.” She mouthed an Oh, obviously not sharing my enthusiasm for classic poetry (or, like most people, understanding that it’s just a car commercial). Which prompts me to question:
How many other Classic Lit. Nerds out there would have felt the same as I? I was excited not only to hear a classic poem featured in a mainstream car commercial, but to recognize it as one of my favorites.
Has anyone else ever seen a bookshelf in a TV show or movie and wondered what was on the shelf?
I do this all the time.
A few weeks ago I read a book, and it’s greatest influence was Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Until now, I had only read individual poems from Whitman. But this new book sparked my interest in Whitman’s classic collection of poems. It…is…phenomenal.
“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes).”
Within the pages of Leaves of Grass, I have found lines and words and phrases that have almost made me shout out loud. Even though most of it was written over a century ago, it’s full of meditations and musings on human conditions that seem timeless and universal: Whitman’s need for and struggles with human connection, his passion for nature, and his talent for finding the divine in the everyday.
Reading it, though, makes me wonder how many other people would share my enthusiasm, or even how many people would give the book a chance? Who else takes the time to read classic works of literature that are over a hundred years old? Who else reads them and identifies with them in the same way I do?
Last year I hung a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s “If-” on my classroom wall. I shared it with my students, all boys, expecting at least a few of them to nod, smile, show some spark of “getting it.” No luck. I even showed them this excellent short film: “What If.” They understood the poem, sure. That wasn’t the problem. But they just didn’t “get” it. Some of them didn’t even like it.
So where are the like-minded Classic Lit. Nerds? Where are my friends who get excited about Shakespeare and Thoreau and Dickinson and London and Hemingway and Woolf and Vonnegut and Bradbury and Chaucer and Plath? Where are my friends who recognize references to classic literature? Where are my friends who love the smell of old books and new books?
Literature connects all of us by navigating and revealing universal truths about what it means to be human. [Tweet this!]
That is where my enthusiasm comes from, reading something like “Song of the Open Road” or “If” or “The Tyger” or watching Hamlet or Oedipus or Antigone and realizing that these authors seemed to understand something many of us forget:
“that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” — Walt Whitman, “O Me! O Life!”