The name of the site comes from a line in the Walt Whitman poem O Captain! My Captain!
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
On the surface, it means something like, "celebrate deliriously, people!" It's a call to experience life as a amazing amusement park, where everything is beautiful.
So, at least on the surface, this site is about celebrating a few things I really enjoy doing:
- Writing: poems and other things. Collected in my sister site, Along the Longing.
- Baking: specifically of 100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread. Before it was fashionable, I might add! Collected in my sister site, The Flailing Baker.
- Wine: a database of wines I have enjoyed, located here at Exult O Shores. Most reviews come from my AG (Awesome Girlfriend, although Attorney General is not altogether inappropriate).
- Coding: specifically full-stack web developer. All this is mine (hosted on AWS with stack of Ubuntu, Apache, Python, Postgresql).
The Whitman poem where I get my inspiration is not just about celebration, though. On the contrary; in the context of the poem, the jubilation is undercut by an almost unbearable grief. (More on that below).
Once you get familiar with the poem, "Exult O shores" starts to suggest things like these:
- Yes, celebrate! Capture the joy of living and revel in it.
- Be humble. Accept that pain and grief are just as integral to the life project as joy.
- Be open to everything. Live as fully as possible, experiencing joy and pain alike to their fullest, without reservation, without resistance.
If that sounds like a set of instructions—well, yes. My primary goal here is to cultivate and champion an attitude of openness towards life—not necessarily easy to attain, but worth the effort.
Click links in the header to explore further.
Reading "Captain! My Captain!"
Whitman's poem is about the aftermath of the assassination of President Lincoln in 1865. Quoting the last four lines:
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
The crowds of people on the "shores" jubilantly celebrate the end of the Civil War, their unity and victory. The poet, however, arriving on a ship whose "Captain" (Lincoln) has died, knows they will soon be plunged into unbearable grief.
First put yourself in the role of the celebrants: they feel intense joy wholeheartedly, they give themselves completely to it.
Then put yourself in the role of the poet, who knows grief so completely any feeling outside of it seems an impossibility. Joy itself feels hollow, infected with the irony of its eventual demise.
If you read the whole poem, you get about four lines of joy, twelve of shock and denial, and in the last eight—acceptance of the horrible reality.
Except that one line, "Exult O shores, and ring O bells!" What's it doing there exactly, in the midst of such pain? Something like, go ahead and have your fun, it's not going to last? Put that way, it sounds bitter, even sarcastic.
However, if you read a lot of Whitman, you know he is not prone to sarcasm; he is the most open and authentic of humans imaginable, with nothing but empathy for the suffering of others.
The cry "Exult O shores" is really more of a carpe diem cried out in the midst of mourning. Easy enough to shout "seize the day!" when everything is going fine; the real challenge and opportunity of being human is to have that attitude when everything is breaking apart.