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 the 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.

Analysis, meaning and summary of the poem by

29 Comments

  1. Mahala says:

    This poem elaborates solely on the life of an excitement dulled and drained by the apparent reality that overtakes and monotonizes it. Bringing ones excitement of the inpending unknown into the drab grasp of finding out and then back to the blissfulness of ignorance and simplicity.

  2. Uknown says:

    I don’t know. this poem is uhm, weird but somewhat mystical.

  3. Christopher29 says:

    I completely agree that the knowledge you can gain from an intellectual can make you forget to learn from a sensual aspect and admire the beauty but I do also believe that one such as Whitman can get too caught up in the holistic experience and forget to return to the other aspect. How can you expect to call yourself more knowledgable than the proffesor if all you do is daydream and look at the stars. Life requires a balance in all aspects. Whitman was very charismatic and good in the english language but how can one say that they are more intelligent than the astronomer just because they admire the stars. We might not see the astronomer during his time of meditation.

  4. Lola says:

    I really enjoyed this poem. It really made me think!!

  5. yeats says:

    It is said that science murders of the beautyof art. By science discovery, fantastic fairies are broke. But does science bring material wealthy?

  6. DaHaz (MY) says:

    Like many have said before me, I believe that Whitman is trying to communicate the fact that the scientific process is inferior to a natural, romantic, and personal interaction with the subject beings studied. (This is pretty evident in the diction of the poem–how it changes…)

  7. Shaoyu says:

    After I have read so many comments, a sentence from Keats comes into my mind:”Beauty is truth, truth beauty”

  8. Nayoung says:

    reading this poem, i can see that the writer is trying to show the contrast between the boredom being in the classroom, being lectured about the “nature” to the amazemant actually go out there and being in it and feel it by oneself.

  9. elif says:

    astronomy looks at the stars from a scinetific point of view, from a mathematical aspect; but Whitman, bored of the course he is taking at the time, looked at the stars from such an aspect that he even wandered among them…

  10. burak says:

    stars which mean mathematical or astronomical themes to scientists,come to mean as a tool of romance or emotions for the man of letters. this is the issue here.

  11. Mike says:

    not to overanalyze, but stars = poems, mayhaps?

  12. holly says:

    I realy enjoyed this poem. the thing i was woundering was what was Whitman’s purpose to wright this poem and how did he best achieve it?

  13. Asterik says:

    When you overanalyze something, looking too deep into the mysteries, it seems to stop having all of its wonder until you can back up and look at it again from the perspective of the innocently curious, not the one who wants to know everything about it. Numbers mean nothing until you can take a step back and say “Wow. That’s beautiful. Let’s leave it at that.”

  14. AZ says:

    Thats what happens when you try to analyze everything that comes your way…it loses its natural beauty and mystery

  15. David Ryle says:

    As an amateur astronomer, I have found the rigors of the science to be destracting from the beauty and love I once felt for the night sky. This poem sums up my deepest feelings for that love and inspires me to never forget.

    That is what good poetry is all about.

  16. matt whitaker says:

    this is one of my favorite poems of all time. i feel the same way as whitman described in the peom. sick of the numbers and the math. when u take something and anazlyze it u tend to forget the beauty that god gave it. numbers are meanigless. in the bible it says “Be still and know that i am God.” this is what its talking about…..

  17. yongxing says:

    Experiencing something for yourself is much better than listening to someone else telling you how it is done. It is pretty much saying that he walks out of class after listening to the professor bore him to death and visualize the stars. Whitman is a homosexual and that is true of the previous poster has said.

  18. sy says:

    i think the poem means exaclty what it says. he goes into a lecture and finds himself so bored and sick of the topic. but he leaves the place, realizing that he has learned something. the knowledge he acquired from this astronomy course has helped him appreciate nature. and looking up at the stars has never looked so beautiful to him before. the astronomy professor has helped him grow an appreciation for the stars in the sky. it’s like students; we go to school and we dread the lectures. but we come out of the classroom and we realize that the topic may have seemed to suck before, but we are grateful to have learned what we did. and the world is a more beautiful place because we understand it a little more.

  19. Bhaswat Chakraborty says:

    The astronomer has learned about the stars and can only project his learning. The poet experiences the ‘experienceable unknown’– as it is, in silence, in its beauty.

  20. Sandy says:

    I think that the poem demonstrates that opposites co-exist. There is a dialectic tension between facts and intuition, thinkers and feelers, introverts and extroverts, processors and deciders, knowing and experiencing, observing and participating, classroom/book knowledge and experiential learning.

  21. luis says:

    i think this poem had nothing to do with stars and astronomy at all, I don’t know how much we really know about Whitman himself, however I have read that he was actually admittingly a homo-sexual. I feel that Whitman felt trapped in a world, or “lecture-hall” busy and noisy, being taught how to figure out and measure “diagrams” that he had no interest in. he felt “tired and sick” but once he escaped all of that and entered his own world, he was happy, leaving all behind

  22. matt whitaker says:

    i dont think this poem has to do with stars at all. i think Whitman was trying to say that when you over analyze something it looses its true beautiful. stars was just the example he used.

  23. David Ozborn says:

    This poem has changed my life around it shows the beauty of the stars to the world. I agree with the rest of the people above that has commented to the poem. I will hold the book Leaves Of Grass true to my heart.

  24. Teodoro Mertcado says:

    What I believe Whitman expressed wondrously in this poem is the contrast between the dry, sombre data of the astronomer’s lecture and the feelings of beauty, wonder and awe inspired by his sight of the heavens at night.

  25. Claudia says:

    The 2 ideas that are being contrasted in the poem are of the what the astronomer had to say about the stars and what the speaker felt towards nature. It is a technology vs nature poem and whitman clearly feels that the stars should be appreciated in nature and by his or herself. It shows it by its structure and subordination of the word “when” and his diction with the speaker using “learn’d”

  26. Rebecca says:

    okay lisa, i totaly agree with the second idea you said, it makes perfect since seeing as how he mostly taught himself since his parents couldn’t read

  27. suzie says:

    i think what whitman is trying to say is that, while society often applauds our “knowlege” of nature(such as the stars) we sometimes lose sight of the beauty and importance of it…whitman, however, chooses to lose himself IN the beauty, and wonders at the stars…. i don’t know if that sparked any ideas for the two of you that needed help! 🙂

  28. Lisa says:

    When reading this peom i get two different ideas about it and i need someones help to analyze this poem. One idea i get is about the stars themselves, just how beautiful and mysterious they are. The other idea I get is about the student, how he feels about the difference between the astronomer teaching him and finding it out for himself. Any ideas?!?!

  29. John Piken says:

    This poem is very insiteful about the beauty of the stars.

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