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When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer 


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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.
Perhaps Walt Whitman came to the lecture unprepared. He didn't know how much depth, beauty, perspective he missed.
I wonder, who the "learn'd atronomer" was?
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  • 1 month later...

This question came up decades ago at an astronomy club.  Our best guess, based on Whitman's geographic locations in the time around the Civil War (the poem published 1867), was that Simon Newcomb could have been the lecturer (if there was an actual lecture, and Whitman wasn't just fabricating the experience for artistic purposes).  As I'm sure at least one of our moderators knows, Newcomb was a professor of mathematics and an astronomer at the US Naval Observatory.  Whitman worked in DC during the Civil War and possibly could have attended lectures?   


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