Poetry Monday: “When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer” by Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman, who lived from 1819-1892, is one of the most famous poets in American history.  He was born in Long Island to parents with Quaker sensibilties, and lived most of his life in the Northeast.  His poems–which tackled Big Questions about politics, religion, sexulity, human nature–have influenced countless artists since and are deeply enshrined in the American imagination.  He’s been called the father of free verse, for his revolutionary approach to form.  This is my favorite of his many poems that explore the beauty and profundity of nature:

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.


7 responses to “Poetry Monday: “When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer” by Walt Whitman

  1. Janet July 18, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    This is one of my all-time favorite poems! Yay!

  2. mfranti July 18, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Is that fMhJanet?

  3. Karmen July 18, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    Oh so nice! We all need to wander off by ourselves 🙂

  4. Thomas Parkin July 19, 2011 at 12:44 am

    This is one of two parts of Whitman that my grandfather copied out and sent to me in a letter when I was about 19. (The other was the part that begins ‘out of the rolling ocean, the crowd.’) I can’t read either without coming near tears. I read those lines many many times as I was becoming an adult, and they helped form who I am.

  5. mfranti July 19, 2011 at 1:25 pm


    Thanks for sharing that story.

  6. Kim July 20, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    What a fantastic poem! Thank you. As a scientist, I deal with the numbers, charts and diagrams all the time and I understand the need for them. However, the passion behind my science is my love of the natural world, the “mystical” aspect of all things ecological. It is the time alone with the “perfect silence” of the stars that feeds my soul, and my science.

  7. Winterbuzz July 22, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    Missy, I truly look forward to these each week.

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