When I Heard The Learnd Astronomer
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“When I heard the Learnd Astronomer,” by Walt Whitman is a very famous poem. The poem can be interpreted in a number of different ways, depending on the person who is reading it. Following in this essay are two interpretations of what I think the poem is actually about, and then my reasons and ideas to back up it up.
The poem begins with a man telling the reader about his experiences in which he was being informed about the science and facts of Astronomy. He tells of how he was sitting in a lecture, which was being taught by the “Learnd Astronomer.” While this man was sitting in this lecture, where he was being shown charts and diagrams, which he is expected to add, divide and measure in order to understand, he immediately begins to feel ill. He then continues to explain that the moment he stood up and left the lecture-room and went outside by himself, he felt better. He says, “How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, Till rising and gliding out I wanderd off by myself, In the mystical moist night air, and from time to time, Lookd up in perfect silence at the stars.”
One way to look at this poem is that the man who is sitting in the lecture and listening to the Astronomer is not very educated. Perhaps as he sits there, listening to the astronomer and does not know exactly what the astronomer is teaching him. The poem says that as the astronomer lectured with much applause, meaning that as the astronomer taught, the people listening were intrigued and grateful that they were able to learn from such a “Learnd Astronomer.” The man listening may be unable to understand all of the charts and diagrams that everyone else in the lecture is looking at. This situation of neophyte ness makes the man feel irritated, tired and sick as he sits there, lost in confusion. Then the man gets up by himself, and goes outside, into the “mystical moist night air.” Once he is outside he finds himself in peace. He is by himself, with no one to tell him the logistics of the night sky or the scientific reasoning behind what is happening. At this point, the man from time to time looks up at the sky, and rather than thinking how many molecules are in an atom, or how many light years a star is away from Earth, he simply looks at the mysterious sky and stars and is content to marvel at their beauty. This gives the impression that once the man is away from the rest of the people, he is able to unwind and be himself. When he is in the lecture, he is being given a number of problems and solutions to remember, and he cannot keep up. He gets frustrated and ill feeling because his intellect and cerebral ability is not on the level of the learnd astronomer. It is possible that he is a man of little education, and while other people may be enthralled with the science behind the universe, he is content to just marvel at its unexplainable beauty.
Another way to look at this poem is look at it with an Emersonian perspective. I the poem can not only be taken literally, but also metaphorically. The poem is about a man who is sitting in an Astronomy class, which is being taught by the so-called, “Learnd Astronomer.” But rather than looking at the story as an actual encounter, it can be looked at as a metaphor. The man in the poem tells the reader how he is sitting in the lecture, being taught astronomy from this “Learnd Astronomer.” The man gets tired and ill feeling after being in the class too long. I feel that this is not really a story about a man in an astronomy lecture, but rather a teaching to the readers about