A scene from a film – Dead Poets Society – Carpe Diem

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Hello and welcome to Learn English Vocabulary. My name is Jack and I’m making this podcast for you to learn or revise English vocabulary. You can find a transcript of this podcast on LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk. There’s a page for this podcast with the transcript, an activity and a task for you to do in the comments section.

Today, I am going to make a podcast following a request from Kiam who left me a comment on the Learn English Vocabulary website. Kiam has made a few requests and I will try to get to all of them. Today, I’m going to look at a scene from a film. The film is Kiam’s favourite and is called Dead Poets Society. It’s quite an old film now; it was released in 1989 and stars Robin Williams as Mr Keating, an English teacher working in an old fashioned boarding school for boys. The film is set in 1959 in Vermont in the United States of America at a time when people were far more conservative, especially the rich families who sent their children to expensive schools. Mr Keating is an unusual teacher. His teaching methods are described as unorthodox. Unorthodox just means unusual or different, but it’s a bit more formal so you might hear people talk about a style of work or an approach to something formal, perhaps business or the arts as unorthodox. 

In the scene of the film I’m going to focus on, Keating is introduced to his class for the first time. He takes the boys out of the classroom into a corridor where there are cases with sports trophies and old photographs. I’m going to play the scene in parts and describe the interesting vocabulary along the way. I’m going to focus on the B1 and B2 vocabulary.

In the opening lines of the scene, Mr Keating uses the word captain. A captain is the leader of a sports team or the person in charge of a ship or an aircraft. Someone might ask: Who is the captain of the English football team? Or if you were on a boat, you might ask to speak to the captain. My favourite captain is Captain Kirk who is the person in charge of the fictional Starship Enterprise. In the scene from Dead Poets Society, it’s in a quote from a poem and it’s referring to the American president Abraham Lincoln. Listen to this first part now and pay attention to the words clue and slightly and daring. He is talking to all of the boys in his class in the corridor.

KEATING

“Oh Captain, My Captain” who knows where that comes from?

Not a clue? It’s from a poem by Walt Whitman about Mr. Abraham Lincoln. Now in this class you can call me Mr. Keating. Or, if you’re slightly more daring, Oh Captain, My Captain.

A clue is normally a small piece of information that you use to solve a puzzle or problem. Detectives and police inspectors look for clues to solve crimes. You can also use the word clue in the phrase: I haven’t a clue. That means, I don’t have any idea. Do you know where the station is? I’m sorry, I haven’t a clue, I’m not from here. So when Keating asks: not a clue? He is asking if any of the boys in the class have a clue, if they have any idea.

He says that the boys can call him Oh Captain, My Captain if they are feeling slightly more daring. Slightly is an adverb that means a small amount. I’m slightly older than my wife. I’m older, but only a little bit. 

Daring means brave and ready to take a risk. It means ready to dare. If you dare do something, it means you are brave enough to do it. You can also dare someone to do something. In this sense, to dare means to challenge someone to see if they are brave enough. Lots of children get into trouble because of this. If someone dares you to do something and you don’t do it, they will call you a coward, even if they don’t dare to do it themself. I dare you to … and then something brave and often stupid. So daring means brave enough to do something dangerous or scary. 

In the next section, Keating speaks quickly so I’m going to break it up and tell you what he says first so you can hear the difference between my accent and Robin Williams American accent and also so you can hear the vocabulary in context. 

Keating says: Now let me dispel a few rumours so they don’t fester into facts.

KEATING

Now let me dispel a few rumors so they don’t fester into facts. 

Dispel means to remove false ideas or fears. If people are afraid of something that’s not real, perhaps they have read something silly on facebook and now they are afraid of the covid vaccine. If you can convince them that their fears are not valid or real, then you dispel their fears. It’s not a very common word and collocates with fears, rumours and myths. 

A rumour is an unofficial piece of information that’s usually spread by people talking about it or on social media. So before the newest iPhone is released, there are blogs online with rumours about what the new phone will be like. This information is not reliable and may not be true.  

Keating says that he wants to dispel the rumours so they don’t fester into facts. Now this is not what happens to rumours, he’s joking a bit. The verb fester is used to talk about wounds that are left untreated. If you cut your hand and don’t clean the cut, it might fester, it might get infected and … nasty. It’s not a nice word. 

Keating then says: Yes, I too attended Hell-ton and survived. And no, at that time I was not the mental giant you see before you. I was the intellectual equivalent of a ninety-eight pound weakling. I would go to the beach and people would kick copies of Byron in my face.

The school is Welton so Keating is making a joke with the name and calls the school hell-ton. To attend a school means to go to a school as a student. To survive means to live through a difficult situation. When there is a plane crash, the TV news always reports if there are any survivors. After an earthquake, people search the rubble for people who have survived. Keating is suggesting that the school is a dangerous place and that some people didn’t survive.

He says he was not a mental giant. Mental refers to the mind and thinking. If you can do difficult sums and calculations in your head, you are good at mental arithmetic or maths. A giant is a mythical creature, a really big man. A mental giant, then, is a person who can do great things with their mind. 

He says: I was the intellectual equivalent of a 98 pound weakling. A weakling is a very weak person. Someone who is not at all strong. 98 pound is a weight. It’s the same as 44 kg. If someone weighs 44 kg, they are probably not very strong. However, Mr Keating is not talking about his physical strength, he’s talking about his mental power. He is describing himself as the intellectual equivalent of a mental weakling. Intellectual refers to a person’s ability to think and understand complicated things. Equivalent means having the same value or amount. You can talk about money from different countries and say £10 in the UK is the equivalent of about $14 dollars in the USA. 

In the 1930s in America, there was a famous body builder called Charles Atlas. He developed a training program that was advertised in comics and magazines for years. In the advert, there was a 98 pound weakling on the beach who is bullied by a stronger man who kicks sand from the beach into his face. This famous advert is mentioned in lots of films and old TV series. This is why Keating says:  I would go to the beach and people would kick copies of Byron in my face. Byron is a famous romantic poet. 

Yes, I too attended Hell-ton and survived. And no, at that time I was not the mental giant you see before you. I was the intellectual equivalent of a ninety-eight pound weakling. I would go to the beach and people would kick copies of Byron in my face.

In the next part, Keating asks one of the boys to open the poetry book which he refers to as a hymnal. A hymnal is normally a book of religious songs that people sing in church. When I was a kid, I went to church and there was a board that had numbers on it at the front and these were the numbers of the hymns that everybody would sing so people could find the right words. Normally, a collection of poems is an anthology, but in the film it’s a hymnal. 

Keating asks one of the students to open the hymnal anr read the first stanza of the poem. Stanzas are groups of lines in a poem. They are a bit like verses in a song. 

KEATING

Now, Mr… Pitts. That’s a rather unfortunate name. Mr. Pitts, where are you?

Mr. Pitts, would you open your hymnal to page 542 and read the first

stanza of the poem you find there?

PITTS

“To the virgins, to make much of time”?

KEATING

Yes, that’s the one. Somewhat appropriate, isn’t it.

Unfortunate means unlucky. We use the word to say that something is bad, but there was nothing to do to stop it from happening. Keating is mocking his pupil Mr Pitts by suggesting that it was bad luck to have been named Pitts.

A virgin is someone who has not had sex. Keating jokes that the poem is appropriate. Appropriate means proper or right or suitable for a person or situation. The opposite is inappropriate. If you make a joke about something and people think it’s not the right time to be joking, they might say that’s inappropriate. Keating is joking that the poem is appropriate because the boys he is teaching are all virgins, they are young and haven’t had sex. I’m not sure that joke was appropriate. 

Now, we hear the stanza. It is by the English poet Robert Herrick and was written in the 17th century so he uses the word ye. It’s an old fashioned word for you when talking to more than one person. It’s not used any more.  

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, old time is still a flying, and this same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying.

Gather means to collect and put in one place. Gather your things means collect all of your stuff. You might say: I need to go back to the hotel and gather a few things. Rosebuds are flowers, roses, before they have bloomed. I don’t know much about flowers, but I suspect you can pick rosebuds and they will still bloom if you put them in water. 

PITTS

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, old time is still a flying, and this same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying.”

KEATING

Thank you Mr. Pitts. “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” The Latin term for that sentiment is Carpe Diem. Now who knows what that means?

MEEKS

Carpe Diem. That’s “seize the day.”

KEATING

Very good, Mr.-

MEEKS

Meeks.

KEATING

Meeks. Another unusual name. Seize the day. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Why does the writer use these lines?

Keating asks about the meaning of the line: Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. He says that the meaning is the same as a latin phrase. He doesn’t use the word meaning though, he says sentiment. Meaning is more precise and can be used to describe the words. The sentiment is more of the feeling or the broader meaning, the sense of a statement. Often, we talk about the sentiments of love and support that are expressed by cards when someone is unwell. 

Latin is a dead language. That is, nobody speaks it as their first language any more. It was the language of ancient Rome and it is studied in expensive private schools. Lots of English words can be traced back through French to Latin and scientists like using Latin words to describe animals and  plants. 

Keating says that the sentiment of the poem can be expressed in latin. The Latin term is Carpe diem which can be translated as seize the day. Seize means to take hold of something quickly and firmly. You can seize a person, perhaps a prisoner trying to escape or you can seize a chance or an opportunity which means to take an opportunity quickly and happily.    

Keating asks the boys what this means and why the poet uses these lines.

CHARLIE

Because he’s in a hurry.

KEATING

No, ding!

KEATING

Thank you for playing anyway. Because we are food for worms lads. Because, believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold, and die. 

Keating says that the writer is telling people to seize the day because we are food for worms. Worms are little animals that live in the ground. They are like tiny little wet snakes, but soft and they don’t have eyes. When a person dies, if they are buried in the ground, their body will decompose and worms and other little creatures will eat the remains. Keating says we are food for worms lads. Lads is an informal way to say boys or young men. He jokes again saying believe it or not each and everyone of us is one day going to stop breathing. Breathing is the act of taking air into our body, into our lungs and then blowing it out again. Inhale and exhale. 

Keating now invites the boys to look at the pictures of the ex pupils on the wall. 

Now I would like you to step forward over here and peruse some of the faces from the past. You’ve walked past them many times. I don’t think you’ve really looked at them.

He says step forward. This is slightly interesting to me because in the UK, I would say step forwards. We say forwards, backwards and towards when we are talking about directions, but in America, they have dropped the s from the end. To make things complicated, in the UK, we have dropped the s from these words if we are talking metaphorically. So I would say that the Covid vaccine was a big step forward in the battle against the disease. I don’t think you need to worry about forward or forwards and both uses are acceptable according to the Cambridge dictionary. 

They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable?

Invincible means that someone or something is impossible to beat. Superman is invincible except for kryptonite. 

The phrase the world is your oyster comes from a Shakespeare play, The Merry Wives of Windsor. The phrase in the play is actually the world is mine oyster and the person speaking means they can do whatever they want. You often hear it said to young people who are at the beginning of their lives and careers to say that they can do whatever they want to do.

They’re destined for great things. Destined is an adjective and it means intende or meant for something. It’s linked to the noun destiny and destination. The destination is the place a journey ends. Where you end up in life is your destiny. Some people believe in fate and that we are not free to choose and that we are destined to do things. Destiny is all very well when fate has great plans, but nobody likes to think they are destined to do something dull and boring. 

Keating asks: Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable?

An iota is a very small amount. It’s quite formal so you might hear it used when people are discussing politics. These reforms will not make one iota of difference. 

Capable is an adjective that normally means that someone can do something very well. You can say you are capable of doing something. I am capable of looking after my children. Keating asks if the boys in the pictures waited until it was too late to make something from their lives, to do what they were capable of doing. 

Because you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in.

Fertilizing daffodils means they are buried in the ground. To fertilize a plant means to add food to the ground, to the soil, to help it grow. Daffodils are flowers that grow in the spring. 

At the end of the scene, Keating asks the boys to listen to the pictures so they can hear the old pupils whisper their legacy. Whisper means to speak with just your breath: like this. And their legacy is what they leave to the world after they die. Sometimes a person’s legacy will be money or property, but more often, we talk about the impact of a person’s life, the lessons they learned and shared will be their legacy. 

He suggests that the people in the pictures are urging the boys to seize the day and make their lives extraordinary. Extraordinary means more than ordinary. Ordinary means normal or not special in any way. Extraordinary is written extra and ordinary. Extra comes from latin and it means outside or beyond. So extraordinary means special. It’s pronounced extraordinary not extra ordinary, extraordinary. 

Listen to the whole clip again now. 

KEATING

“Oh Captain, My Captain” who knows where that comes from?

Not a clue? It’s from a poem by Walt Whitman about Mr. Abraham Lincoln. Now in this class you can call me Mr. Keating. Or, if you’re slightly more daring, Oh Captain, My Captain.

Now let me dispel a few rumors so they don’t fester into facts. Yes, I too attended Hell-ton and survived. And no, at that time I was not the mental giant you see before you. I was the intellectual equivalent of a ninety-eight pound weakling. I would go to the beach and people would kick copies of Byron in my face.

Now, Mr… Pitts. That’s a rather unfortunate name. Mr. Pitts, where are you?

Mr. Pitts, would you open your hymnal to page 542 and read the first

stanza of the poem you find there?

PITTS

“To the virgins, to make much of time”?

KEATING

Yes, that’s the one. Somewhat appropriate, isn’t it.

PITTS

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, old time is still a flying, and this same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying.”

KEATING

Thank you Mr. Pitts. “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” The Latin term for that sentiment is Carpe Diem. Now who knows what that means?

MEEKS

Carpe Diem. That’s “seize the day.”

KEATING

Very good, Mr.-

MEEKS

Meeks.

KEATING

Meeks. Another unusual name. Seize the day. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Why does the writer use these lines?

CHARLIE

Because he’s in a hurry.

KEATING

No, ding!

KEATING

Thank you for playing anyway. Because we are food for worms lads. Because, believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold, and die. 

KEATING

Now I would like you to step forward over here and peruse some of the faces from the past. You’ve walked past them many times. I don’t think you’ve really looked at them.

They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable?

Because you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in.

Carpe.

Hear it? Carpe. Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.

OK – This is now the longest podcast I have recorded for Learn English Vocabulary. For those of you who have made it to the end, well done – you have my respect.

I hope you have enjoyed this podcast. I do love reading your comments so please leave me a comment on the site or a rating or a review on Apple podcasts. I love to hear from you and any comments or suggestions you have. 

I think the next podcast will be based on a song and hopefully will be a bit shorter.

If there are any topics or songs or scenes from a film that you would like me to talk about or anything else you would like to hear, I would be delighted to make a podcast for you. So please visit LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk and say hello.

Thanks for listening.

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3 Comments

  • Kiam
    Posted 22/09/2021 at 12:37 pm 0Likes

    Thank you Jack for this excellent podcast that explain this scene clearly. Truly appreciate and look forward to more interactions with you

  • Isabela
    Posted 26/09/2021 at 5:50 pm 0Likes

    Very good podcast, interesting themes!! Excellent professor. I learn a lot here and on Spotify.
    What do you think to do a podcast about fairy tales? Thank you so much

  • Hung from Vietnam
    Posted 10/10/2021 at 9:00 am 0Likes

    Your podcast is great. Could you make a podcast about the song Dance Monkey? Thanks

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