Mere numbers, charts, and diagrams cannot sum up the mystery, power, and beauty of the universe. To begin to understand the wonder of the universe, one must view it through the lens of the unaided eye rather than the lens of the calibrated telescope in order see a
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.
A romantic— poetic or imaginative—perspective can yield a deeper appreciation of a subject than a scientific perspective can.
- Cold, hard facts can obscure deep meanings of an observed phenomenon.
- Scientific calculation can quantify and measure the components and makeup of beautiful objects but cannot fathom their allure; only romantic musing can do that.
- Astronomy can analyze the electromagnetic radiation of a moonbeam; poetry can analyze the dreamy effect of a moonbeam on the human heart.
- Science is invaluable as a tool to help us understand the complexities of the universe. But we must guard against allowing it to indurate us to the wondrous beauty of nature.
- A person must sometimes separate himself from the crowd to experience life and the cosmos from a different perspective. He must become an individual, a nonconformist, willing to abandon the herd to roam freely in open pastures. In the last three lines of the poem, the speaker does so. When he wanders alone in the mystical moist night-air, he looks up but does not see the wonders of celestial mechanics or astronomy, he sees stars.
.Whitman wrote the poem in free verse—also called vers libre, a French term. Free verse generally has no metrical pattern or end rhyme. However, it may contain patterns of another kind, such as repetition. Repetition of Words For example, the first four lines of “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” all begin with the same word, constituting a figure of speech known as anaphora. Repetition of Parallel Structure: In addition, the poem builds a syntactical pattern, parallel structure, in the following groups of words:
the proofs, the figures (line 2)
the charts and diagrams (line 3)
add, divide, and measure (line 3)
tired and sick (line 5)
rising and gliding (line 6)
Repetition of SoundsFinally, the poem repeats similar sounds: heard, learn’d, heard; lectured, lecture, perfect; room, soon; rising, gliding, time, time, silence. Notice, too, the alliteration in the last two lines: mystical moist and silent . . . stars.