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
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 Walt Whitman's poem When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer.


  1. 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.

  2. Mike says:

    not to overanalyze, but stars = poems, mayhaps?

  3. 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?

  4. 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.”

  5. AZ says:

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

  6. 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.

  7. 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…..

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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”

  17. 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

  18. 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! 🙂

  19. 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?!?!

  20. John Piken says:

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

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