When I heard the Learn’d astronomer

Walt Whitman

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.

Think about:

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.
  •          Image result for when i heard the learn'd astronomer  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.
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    .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 anaphoraRepetition 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.


WB YEATS The Song of Wandering Aengus



[In labelling it “song”, the lyrical aspect of this poem is emphasised. The  adjective “wandering” has  connotations of someone endlessly search for something.]

I WENT out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lads and hilly lands.
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Read this analysis of the poem

Refer to the poem on both the literal and figurative level. The poet goes fishing and catches a silver trout. Figuratively, Aengus pursues his love, the girl from his dream while the poet pursues his inspiration. Consider the central theme: the lifelong search  – carefully.

The quest is to find the maiden who has vanished. The speaker’s  search for her is spurred by her mysterious disappearance and the poet’s fascination with this unattainable heart’s desire.
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Entering a hazel wood has another connotation in the Irish tradition as the hazel tree in Irish tree mythology symbolises wisdom.
Fire represents life, enlightenment, and inspiration.
The fish he has caught turns into a dreamlike maiden with springtime blossoms of the apple tree in her hair. She calls him by name and runs away —is she taunting to chase her? The Apple blossoms reflect sensuality, heady love and passion. Image result for the song of wandering aengusThis female figure becomes the object of the speaker’s life quest, which is to find and possess her. For the poet, chasing inspiration is like chasing love.
In the final stanza, the speaker is now old. He has wandered many years, overcoming many obstacles and he would like to find her and walk with her and collect the magical fruit of the sun and moon.
Image result for the song of wandering aengusAs the poem is lyrical, many literary device are used to create its musical effect:
 Assonance: The repetition of the long “o” vowel sounds within the first few lines of final stanza.
Repetition: The repetition of these words throughout poem: hazel, moths, fire, apple, name, time/times. Alliteration: The repetition of “h” at beginning of words in final stanza: hilly, hollow, her, hands.
Consonance: The repetition of “k” sound in final stanza: kiss, take, walk, luck.
Related image*What is the quest that the speaker has set himself? What spurs this search?
*How does this poem reflect both a hopeful and melancholy tone?
*Do you think the speaker will ever find the girl? Why or why not? Use specific examples from the text to support your opinion.
*Discuss the image of the apples and what they represent as a symbol.

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