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 the 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.
When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer by Walt Whitman.
Typically, I think Walt Whitman comes off as perhaps the most over-rated, self-mythologizing, self-indulgent voice in modern American poetry. Only Allen Ginsberg seems to be so in love with mirrors and the pronoun I. But this short verse has some energy and subtle muscle to it.
I thought of this poem as I left the library, ten minutes ago, to wander home across the dark and drizzly Georgetown campus. There’s nothing quite like finishing your final assignment of the semester at 5:40 in the morning.
The beautiful Baroque spires of Georgetown’s Healy Hall.