When John Keating, the teacher portrayed by the late Robin Williams in Peter Weir's film Dead Poets Society, makes the statement quoted in the student's question, he is reaffirming the vital role of the arts in human development. Quoting Whitman immediately following the portion of the full quote included in the question, Keating, who seeks to pull his students out of the narrow, stultifying confines in which they currently exist, hopes to enlighten these boys about the importance of emotions and about the need to be free to express their feelings. The sciences, Keating is emphasizing, are essential for the continuation of life, but absent the fine arts, including poetry, those endeavors are cold and impersonal. Without expressions of beauty, and without the freedom to pursue one's romantic inclinations, life is empty. That Keating ultimately loses his job at the private school, and that Neil will commit suicide in despondence over his father's refusal to accept his son's passion for something other than medicine, is the ultimate affirmation of Keating's comments regarding the need to read and write poetry. There is, the teacher pleads, a place for nonconformity and for open expressions of feelings among the world of manly pursuits.