Four Ways Robin Williams and ‘Dead Poets Society’ Inspire Writers

All of us, regardless of age, have a favorite Robin Williams movie. He was just that kind of actor.

As society grapples with the challenges of depression — and the related questions that Williams’ tragic death brings to the forefront — I revisited not only my favorite Robin Williams movie, but one of my all-time favorite films. Dead Poets Society is the story of an English teacher who arrives at a stuffy private academy in Vermont in 1959 and uses poetry to inspire his students.

Williams played the teacher, John Keating, and among the students were Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles. As I posted on Facebook the other day, this film (which won an Oscar for best original screenplay in 1990) made me want to be a writer more than just about anything else in the world.

The movie is loaded with memorable lines regarding the art of writing — many of them spoken by Williams’ character — including the imperative of finding your voice, defining your purpose and understanding why words still matter. Here are four of the best:


‘Change the World’

Keating: “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”


‘Find Your Own Voice’

Keating: “Now, when you read, just don’t consider what the author thinks. Consider what you think. 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! … Dare to strike out and find new ground!”


‘What Will Your Verse Be?’

Keating: “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. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are 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?”


‘A Barbaric Yawp’

Just watch this:

I found my barbaric yawp courtesy of Robin Williams, and I’ll never forget him.

What’s your favorite scene from Dead Poets Society?

(Special thanks to IMDb.)

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About Michael Popke

Michael Popke owns Two Lakes Media Group and is an award-winning journalist with 25 years of experience in print/digital media as a newspaper reporter, B-to-B magazine/online newsletter editor, social media content generator, freelance writer, book editor and music critic.

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