Dead Poets Society ("Understanding Poetry" Scene)
Gentlemen, open your texts to page 21 of this introduction. Mr. Perry, will you read the opening paragraph of the preface entitled "Understanding Poetry"?
"'Understanding Poetry,' by To fully understand poetry, we must first be fluent with its meter, rhyme and figures of speech, then ask two questions: 1) How artfully has the objective of the poem been rendered and 2) How important is that objective? Question 1 rates the poem's perfection; question 2 rates its importance. And once these questions have been answered, determining the poem's greatness becomes a relatively simple matter. If the poem's score for perfection is plotted on the horizontal of a graph and its importance is plotted on the vertical, then calculating the total area of the poem yields the measure of its greatness. A sonnet by Byron might score high on the vertical but only average on the horizontal. A Shakespearean sonnet, on the other hand, would score high both horizontally and vertically, yielding a massive total area, thereby revealing the poem to be truly great. As you proceed through the poetry in this book, practice this rating method. As your ability to evaluate poems in this matter grows, so will, so will your enjoyment and understanding of poetry."
Excrement. That's what I think of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard. We're not laying pipe. We're talking about poetry. How can you describe poetry like American Bandstand? "Oh, I like Byron. I give him a 42, but I can't dance to it." Now, I want you to rip out that page. Go on. Rip out the entire page. You heard me. Rip it out. Rip it out! Go on. Rip it out! [Charles rips out the page] Thank you, Mr. Dalton. Gentlemen, tell you what. Don't just tear out that page, tear out the entire introduction. I want it gone. History. Leave nothing of it. Rip it out! Rip! Be gone, J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D. Rip. Shred. Tear. Rip it out! I want to hear nothing but ripping of Mr. Pritchard. We'll perforate it, put it on a roll. It's not the Bible. You're not gonna go to Hell for this. Go on. Make a clean tear. I want nothing left of it.
We shouldn't be doing this.
Rip! Rip! Rip! Rip it out! Rip! Rip it out! [Enter McCallister]
What the hell is going on here?
I don't hear enough rips!
I'm sorry. I-- I didn't know you were here.
Ah, so you are. Excuse me.
Thank you, Mr. Dalton. Armies of academics going forward, measuring poetry. No! We'll not have that here. No more Mr. J. Evans Pritchard. Now, my class, you will learn to think for yourselves again. You will learn to savor words and language. No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world. I see that look in Mr. Pitt's eye, like nineteenth century literature has nothing to do with going to business school or medical school. Right? Maybe. Mr. Hopkins, you may agree with him, thinking "Yes, we should simply study our
Mr. Pritchard and learn our rhyme and meter and go quietly about the business of achieving other ambitions." I have a little secret for ya. Huddle up. Huddle up!
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. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are all noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. 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?