Walt Whitman #2

As you’ve probably noticed, Walt Whitman and his work represent a sincere amount of transcendentalism and change in societal thought through a shift in focus, a strong one being realization in nature.  In, When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer, the narrator hears a lecture from an astronomer and feels “tired and sick” about it. The narrator then goes outside and looks up at the stars. From this poem, Whitman may be trying to convey that leaving nature unsolved and mysterious is better than making nature become something systematic and confusing.

Do you agree with this analysis? Or do you see it differently?                                                    If you do agree, what identity of America does this offer to a reader?                                 Also, why the phrase, “tired and sick” instead of the typical idiom, “sick and tired”?

Whitman said that “the proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.” He believed fully in the relationship between poet and society.  This connection was especially emphasized in “Song of Myself” by using an all-powerful first-person narration.  “Song of Myself” is considered an American epic; it deviated from the historic use of an elevated hero and instead assumed the identity of the common people.

What does this “American” epic style do for the growth and identity of an American literature?

Does the fact that Whitman wasn’t fully appreciated in his time confuse his quote about society?

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One Response to Walt Whitman #2

  1. Eveon11 says:

    I think that in the poem When I Heard The Learn’d Astronomer, Whitman’s reaction to the scientific lecture didn’t necessarily mean that he feels nature is better unsolved rather than solved. Instead I got the impression that he was more fufilled and awestruck by the spirit or essence of nature rather than by its mathematical properties. I interpreted his reaction to act as more of a critique of earlier scholars who valued reason and scientific knowledge over intuition and abstract emotion. His reaction might indicate that although science is valuable (he did attend the lecture anyway – so he must see some value in it), we cannot access nature’s truly awe-inspiring potential in a reasonable and methodological way – in order to appreciate nature to its fullest, intuition is most important. In short, I don’t see Whitman as undermining those who choose to think with their brains, but instead demonstrating how thinking with one’s heart can be equally or potentially even more gratifying.

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