When I Heard The Learn’d Astronomer by Walt Whitman Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


It involves much more than just studying the stark numbers or breathing in the refreshing natural air. In ‘When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer’ Walt Whitman emphasizes the value of nature study as a way to access deeper ideas and understanding. In the poetry collection “Leaves of Grass,” Walt Whitman’s poem “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” is included. This essay discusses the distinction between rote learning and actually experiencing the real-world events around us. Despite being brief, this poem addresses more profound ideas. For instance, the phrase “In the mystical moist night-air…” in particular has more to say than it initially appears to. To understand Whitman’s main ideas, readers must comprehend every word in this essay.

About the poet

American poet, essayist, and journalist Walter Whitman Jr. (May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892) was born in the United States. He is regarded as one of the most significant poets in American history, fusing realism with transcendentalism in his works. He paid for his own poetry collection Leaves of Grass, which was published in 1855 and rose to fame. He travelled to Washington, D.C. during the American Civil War and worked in hospitals tending to the injured. He relocated to Camden, New Jersey after having a stroke, where he passed away at the age of 72. His impact on poetry is still felt today.


Line 1-4

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,

The speaker—likely Whitman himself—is attending an astronomical discussion, which is described in the poem’s first stanza. The speaker begins by introducing the lecture hall and presenting evidence in the form of facts, statistics, charts, and diagrams. The speaker’s tone shifts when he emphasizes his distancing from and disappointment with the formal academic environment. The sentence “When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room” implies that the speaker is physically present but mentally absent from the speech. The poem examines the difference between an instinctive, more intimate relationship with nature and the logical, rigorous study of astronomy. Evidently, the poet was the only one in the room who wasn’t listening intently to what the astronomer was saying.

Line 5-6

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,

Beginning at line five, the second part of “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” begins with a short depiction of the speaker’s response to the monotonous subject matter of the astronomy lecture. The poem expresses the speaker’s discontent with the scientific and analytical framework used in the lecture to explain the wonders of the universe. The statements “How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick” and “Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself” imply a change in the speaker’s perspective from an academic, analytical approach to a more personal, experienced one. These phrases highlight the speaker’s desire for a more intuitive and all-encompassing relationship with the natural world and the universe, while highlighting the value of individualised exploration and subjective experience above the constraints of academic study.

Line 7-8

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

The poem creates a vibrant atmosphere, conveying a feeling of magic and mystery. “And from time to time” suggests a relaxed and easygoing pace, while the line “Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars” highlights the speaker’s transition from passive listening to active observation. The speaker’s desire for a closer, more personal interaction with the universe’s secrets is highlighted by the contrast between the busy lecture hall and the lonely communion with the stars. It honours the influence of personal vision and the ability to be amazed and inspired by nature.