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"When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer"

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Lisa Uy

on 20 October 2015

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Transcript of "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer"

"When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer"
By Walt Whitman
Lisa Uy

Poetic Devices
Works Cited
for Students
. Ed. Anne Marie Hacht. Vol. 22. Detroit: Gale, 2005. 243-254.
Gale Virtual Reference Library
. Web. 11 Feb. 2014.
Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman was born in New York in 1819. Whitman attended public schools for six years and later educated himself in the library. Growing up, this famous poet worked newspaper jobs and teaching posts, and he eventually became a newspaper editor in 1846. In the 1850s Whitman released
Leaves of Grass
, which introduced his new poetic technique. When the Civil War broke out, Whitman volunteered in hospitals. His experience of the war inspired many of his works. Whitman had a stroke in 1873. However he still continued to write, including more revised versions of
Leaves of Grass
. In 1892, Walt Whitman died of tuberculosis.
"When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer"
When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.
Diction
When I heard the
learn'd
astronomer,
When the
proofs
, the
figures
, were
ranged
in columns before me,
When I was shown the
charts
and
diagrams
, to
add
,
divide
, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till
rising
and
gliding
out I
wander'd
off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd
up in perfect silence at the stars.
Repetition
When
I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When
the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When
I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When
I sitting heard the astronomer where he
lectured
with much applause in the
lecture
-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, 5
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by
m
yself,
In the
m
ystical
m
oist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect
s
ilence at the
s
tars.
Vocabulary
ranged
- shortened version of
arrange
unaccountable
- difficult to determine
mystical
- inspiring a sense of spirituality
*The words "learn'd", "wander'd", and "look'd" are contractions for learned, wandered, and looked, respectively.*
Organization
Whitman used words such as "proofs" and "charts" in order to demonstrate the ordered structure of math and science. This creates a mundane sense toward the "astronomer" and his "diagrams."
The poet also planned his diction with "rising" and "gliding" in order to suggest the motion of stars and other bodies in space. This serves to relate to the poem's theme of space.
The contractions, such as "learn'd", and the abbreviations, such as "ranged" or "[t]ill", represent common language, or everyday speech. This emphasizes the speaker's individualism and opposing characteristics to the "astronomer."
The repetition of the words, such as "when" and "lecture", at the beginning of the poem makes the poem a little awkward.
This serves to support the idea that it is awkward to approach the idea of astronomy with just science.
Towards the end of the poem, Whitman begins to introduce alliteration, the repetition of initial sounds. This reiterates the "mystical" feeling of observing the stars on one's own.
1 When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
5 How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, 5
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.
This poem has no particular meter, but it does use other organizational methods. For example, at the beginning of the poem, the lines get gradually longer. This can obviously be noted in line 4 of the poem. The end of the poem appears more favorable. The last line is even written in iambic pentameter. These methods indicate Whitman's favor of an individual's own experience over science.
Summary
"When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer" is told by a speaker who is a common man. The speaker is in a "lecture-room" listening to an astronomer who speaks of astronomy in a mundane way through mathematical expressions. The speaker becomes "tired and sick", not just because of the lecture, but also because he is "unaccountable" or impossible to explain. Finally the speaker moves outside and takes a look at the night sky on his own. He looks as he wants and when he wants, and he finally sees the stars in his own eyes.
Interpretation (Theme)
Whitman's poem is romantic literature. The main theme is "personalism", which is the name for Whitman's specific individualism. Personalism is the idea that people should live life as they want with the help of an ideal of state to balance their lives out. The whole idea of individualism is shown in the poem through the speaker. The speaker interprets the stars himself and is no longer "tired." However Whitman shows that individualism is not always key by making the speaker "unaccountable." This reiterates the idea of need an ideal state in order to balance everything.
"When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer."
Poetry
Full transcript