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February 25, 2011

Poetry Friday--"When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer"

Walt Whitman wrote some mighty weighty poems. He also, however, wrote others that are remarkable in their simplicity. Here's one of the latter that I particularly like:
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 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.
I don't believe much commentary is necessary with this one, do you?

Another poem in the same vein is his "A Clear Midnight."
This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best.
Night, sleep, and the stars.

Visit Read Write Believe where Sara has the Poetry Friday Round-Up for this week.

Image courtesy: NASA, ESA, Hubble, R. Sahai (JPL)


  1. How universal is our love of night, sleep, and the stars? I think Walt would have loved the NASA image you chose to illustrate his words.

    Thanks, Diane!

  2. In our chorus, we are singing a Whitman song as arranged by Vaughn Williams which thrills through my soul each time I sing the words --

    Darest thou now O soul,
    Walk out with me toward the unknown region,
    Where neither ground is for the feet nor any path to follow?

    No map there, nor guide,
    Nor voice sounding, nor touch of human hand,
    Nor face with blooming flesh, nor lips, are in that land.

    I know it not O soul,
    Nor dost thou, all is blank before us,
    All waits undream'd of in that region, that inaccessible land.

    Till when the ties loosen,
    All but the ties eternal, Time and Space,
    Nor darkness, gravitation, sense, nor any bounds bounding us.

    Then we burst forth, we float,
    In Time and Space O soul, prepared for them,
    Equal, equipt at last, (O joy! O fruit of all!) them to fulfill O soul.

    Happy Friday.

  3. Ah, lovely. Makes me wish it were still night here so I could run out and soak up the stars.

  4. Beautiful...especially that second one. I shall have to find Tanita's choir music - Whitman and Williams - how magnificent!

  5. So beautiful, all of it!! Thank you for sharing words bringing close the wordless beauty!

  6. This is gorgeous. I'm not a huge Whitman fan. If all his writing were like When I Heard, I would be! I've read this poem before, but didn't know (or else forgot) it was his.

    It really speaks to me because I have to remind myself to quit analyzing sometimes and

    Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars


  7. Thanks everyone for your comments, I'm glad you like my choices for today!

    Tanita--I hope someone is going to record the choral performance and post it on YouTube. I'd love to hear the music that goes with Whitman's poem. Keep us informed!

  8. I had heard the title four thousand times but I've never honestly read the poem AND I had no idea it was Whitman! Thank you for sharing a great piece and contributing towards my ever blossoming education.

  9. I love that hour when all is done that can be done in a day and it's just "Night, sleep, and the stars."