REVIEW: Whitman’s “Learn’d Astronomer”

In Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer,” we are exposed to the tedium of academic study, contrasted with the slowness of casual observation.  The piece is, rather, two.  The clustering of scientific words at the beginning comes across as a chore list when put together with the second idea of the poem, making for a stark juxtaposition.  The two different polar moods balance the writing.  The diction shows sentimentality to the “perfect silence” and “mystical moist night air,” much opposed to the feeling of apprehension given the onslaught of obtuse facts and figures.

Whitman tells this from the first person, possibly for effect.  Strongly shown is his use of the word “I.”  It helps to point out the theme.  This is something that had occurred; or possibly, even, happened to him; and seemingly, important enough to immortalize on paper.  The two ideas have enough separation between them to question the relevance of both.  Ultimately, what the author gets from one, he does not get from the other.  Study and participation provide hard knowledge, versus visual observation providing perspective.  Both of them, balancing the spectrum of experience.

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