poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

About this Poem 

Though the poem deals primarily with scientific and romantic themes, it was written in the midst of the Civil War and first appeared in Whitman's collection entitled Drum-Taps.

When I Heard the Learned Astronomer

Walt Whitman, 1819 - 1892

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.

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

Born on May 31, 1819, Walt Whitman is the author of Leaves of Grass and, along with Emily Dickinson, is considered one of the architects of a uniquely American poetic voice. 

by this poet


I wander all night in my vision, 
Stepping with light feet, swiftly and noiselessly stepping and stopping, 
Bending with open eyes over the shut eyes of sleepers, 
Wandering and confused, lost to myself, ill-assorted, contradictory, 
Pausing, gazing, bending, and stopping. 

How solemn they look there,

When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom'd,   
And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night,   
I mourn'd—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.   
O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring;   
Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,
And thought of
O Me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;   
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;   
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who  more faithless?)   
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew