“Viewed freely, the English language is the accretion and growth of every dialect, race, and range of time, and is both the free and compacted composition of all.”
My junior year of high school, my language teacher Mr. Randy Robbins introduced us to the poetry of Walt Whitman. Until then, I had never read any poems by this “sweaty toothed madman.” Yet, I remember sitting there with my weathered textbook and bushing my hands in awe over the words on the page.
“I celebrate myself, and I sing myself.”
I couldn’t understand how someone could weave a sentence with so much power, so much resonance. I reread those seven words several more times, each time more in awe than the last. When Robbins opened the floor for discussion, I was too timid to speak up. Did the rest of the class truly understand these words? What if I was reading into it too much? I swallowed my voice and just listened to my classmates, who (for the most part) saw it as another mandatory high school poem they had to read.
After reading a collection of his work, we watched Dead Poets Society with Robin Williams and Ethan Hawk. Dead Poets follows a group of boys as they discover the power of poetry, and explore the meaning of friendship and individuality. This movie was so beautifully crafted and portrayed the ideals of Whitman perfectly.
What stuck with me was from both the movie and Whitman was the word ‘yawp’ from Song of Myself:
“I sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world.”
Yawp. A loud cry or yell, but sounded with vigor and confidence. A yawp is something that makes you known. People acknowledge and recognize your presence because you demand it. During Robbins’ class, he took us outside to sound our yawp over East Coweta. My yawp sounded like a feeble whisper that only I heard. Compared to the rest of the class, my yawp was pitiful.
But since that day my yawp has been strengthening. Yawp has given me a constant reminder to speak up, and to not let myself sink into the background. I’ve found that my confidence has grown, and that I have a story to tell. I become so consumed with trying to tell other people’s stories, that I forgot to tell my own. My story may have more or less bumps in the road than someone else, but it’s mine to tell. That is so powerful to me. I am my own being with my own strengths and hopes, and no one can take that away from me.
I think when we become so focused on what we’re not doing, we forget what we are doing. We forget that we are where we are meant to be. Once we learn to be okay with where we are, only then can we blossom. Only then can we begin to find our yawp.