2. When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer: Walt Whitman

This poem leads to interesting talks about what it means to get an education.  Those who agree with it the most are the ones who struggle with it, too.  For those students, that it is “a classic” is like garlic to a vampire, but after the struggle they come to appreciate the old, dusty words and their meaning.

A non-middle school reference, in Episode 6 of Season 3 of the AMC show “Breaking Bad” a few chemistry-cookers ruminate about the magic of science (and this poem). Not appropriate for youngsters, but adults might get a kick out of the geekiness of the reference.

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, the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the learned 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.


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