Adler Planetarium Astronomy Museum, Art Institute of Chicago
When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer
by Walt Whitman
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.
In Walt Whitman's poem, "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer, the speaker leaves an astronomy lecture to step outside the fixed parameters of the building. Subsequently, this individual learns first hand of the beauty when viewing the same firmament of which the lecturer speaks but viewed simply with the naked eye in silence. By leaving the lecture, the speaker, with scientific information gained from the the astronomer's lecture inside, now enjoys the silent beauty with appreciated knowledge, but more importantly, with appreciation of the significance of the stars’ natural condition.
This poem illustrates iconic realism in that the subject, constellations in a contrived setting, brings the audience and the speaker in the poem to a recognition that education of natural phenomena includes the experience of the real connection between humanity with nature.
I warmly thank the Art Institute of Chicago for purchasing a copy of my book, The Theory of Iconic Realism: Understanding the Arts through Cultural Context.