Robin Williams aka Professor John Keating got us all thinking with this one question in the 1989 cult film Dead Poets Society. In one English class, he taught us that it is poetry which renders meaning to life, that ‘poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for’. What better way, then, to make sure we learnt well from that class than to sit back and read a compilation of some of the best poems ever written, and also learn a few facts about them on the way?
A reference in this iconic scene is to Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, which is repeated at the end in one of the best moments from the movie, when after Keating has been fired, his students climb on their desks and declare their loyalty by saying, ‘Oh Captain, My Captain’.
And of course, Leaves of Grass is now best known for inspiring Walter White in Breaking Bad. Remember when Hank finds out the WW he’s been looking for is Walter? The book he’s holding — that’s Leaves of Grass.
Ever wondered where the phrase ‘an albatross around your neck’ came from?
It’s no surprise that this too came from a poem — an epic one, at that. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is the story of a nightmare voyage to the South Pole narrated by a sole survivor, the bright-eyed ancient mariner, whose wanton killing of an albatross, a bird of good omen, brings misfortune on the ship and all its crew. The poem has been referred to in Mary Shelley’s much-loved Frankenstein and the popular 1994 movie Interview with the Vampire, based on Anne Rice’s novel by the same name, featuring Hollywood superstars Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.
Most famously, the Pirates of the Caribbean series contains many parallels to this epic poem, including the famous proverb, ‘Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink!’ (Yes, this came from the poem as well.)
Loved The Devil’s Advocate? The movie was heavily influenced by the epic poem, Paradise Lost. The main antagonist, John Milton, played by Al Pacino, is named after the famous poet, and in the finale of the film, the main protagonist, Kevin Lomax, played by Keanu Reeves, quotes a famous line from the poem – ‘It’s better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven’.