The poem When I heard the Learnd Astronomer was written in 1865 by an outstanding American poet Walt Whitman, who is considered one of the most influential poets of the USA. Being a perfect example of work of the father of free verse, this poem is written in single stanza consisting of eight lines and has no rhyme in it. This poem depicts a learner (who is the speaker here), perhaps a young student, who is listening to an intelligent and respected professor of astronomy. He is listening to a lecture about stars, but cannot get anything of what he hears. He cannot understand why the lecture about stars should contain so many figures, chats and diagrams and soon gets bored and even sick. So he goes out of the lecture room and sees stars real stars as they are in the sky, which produces much more profound effect upon him.
Therefore, the main topic of the poem When I heard the Learnd Astronomer can be stated as the opposition of science to imagination, real world to the world of chats and figures, young curious mind to an old experienced one. Thus the whole poem is based on contrast learner is opposed to his professor. One of the ways to show how far from each other they are, is the usage of shortening in the word learnd this proves that the student is not academic at all, he is from completely different world. It can as well convey sarcasm towards so educated and experienced astronomer, who still cannot make his lectures interesting for students.
As for other literary devices, there are some repetitions such as anaphora:
When I heard the learnd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the chats and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure
When I sitting heared the astronomer where he lectured with much
applause in the lecture-room.
These four first lines create the setup of the poem, the introduction into the point, while the last four lines serve as learners reaction to what he hears. What is interesting is the length of the lines the second line is longer, than the first one, the third one is longer than the second, and the forth line is longest among first four lines. This may show that the speech of the astronomer is becoming more and more complicated, giving huge amount of dry and boring facts about the most fascinating things in the world stars. On the contrary, the last four lines representing narrators reaction are becoming shorter and shorter and the eighth line is the shortest in the whole poem, which represents the simplicity of the student.
There are some enumerations in the poem, e.g. the proofs, the figures, the chats and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure. This provides the effect of being piled up by loads of boring and unnecessary tasks that never finish. Another common device is inversion How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick. Perhaps, it is used to emphasize the feeling of despair the narrator was experiencing at that moment. In the lines diagrams to add, divide, mystical moist and silence at the stars alliteration can be observed.
The poem When I heard the Learnd Astronomer by Walt Whitman contains only eight lines, but the whole story is given in these eight lines. We have the setting (classroom), two main characters (old astronomer and young student), who are opposed to each other. This contradiction builds the structure of the whole poem contrast between wisdom and education, youth and adulthood, seek for experience and seek for dry knowledge are masterly depicted by Walt Whitman.
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