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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 was asking for something specific and perfect for my city, 
Whereupon lo! upsprang the aboriginal name.

Now I see what there is in a name, a word, liquid, sane, 
   unruly, musical, self-sufficient,
I see that the word of my city is that word from of old, 
Because I see that word nested in nests of water-bays
The world below the brine;   
Forests at the bottom of the sea—the branches and leaves,   
Sea-lettuce, vast lichens, strange flowers and seeds—
      the thick tangle, the openings, and the pink turf,   
Different colors, pale gray and green, purple, white, and gold—
      the play of light through the water
A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full
How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it
	is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful
	green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer