“When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” begins by repeating the title, something that often occurs in Whitman’s poetry and gives extra weight to the first phrase, to set up the idea that the speaker is listening to an educated scientist. This phrase also stands out because of its internal rhyme, or rhyme within the same line, of “heard” with “learn’d.” This is also a slant rhyme, or an inexact rhyme, since “learn’d” has an “n” sound unlike “heard,” but it nevertheless emphasizes a sense of repetition. The slant rhyme even gives the first line an impression of awkwardness, since it is difficult to pronounce and uses the same long vowel sound twice in a row.
The other element of the first line to notice is use of the contracted version of “learned.” Whitman frequently contracts words such as this, which would always be spelled out today, partly in an attempt to capture the way people actually spoke, instead of a high prose style. In this context, the contraction places some distance between the speaker of the poem, or the voice of the narrator, and the educated astronomer to whom he is listening. The poet may be suggesting here that the speaker uses a different, perhaps a more common or lower class, style of expression from the learned scientist.
Line 2 of the poem then presents the interesting image of “proofs” and “figures” of mathematical equations “ranged,”...
(The entire section is 1139 words.)
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