Romanticism and the Scientific Process
When applied to literature, the term romantic refers, very broadly, to the stress of the imagination and the senses over reason and logic. Pre-Civil War American romanticism has more specific associations, as does the philosophy of transcendentalism, and both of these terms are discussed in the historical context section below. But the particular strand of romanticism and transcendentalism that Whitman invokes in “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” can be seen in poem’s contrast between the value of the sensory imagination and the logical method of the scientific process in their approaches to the natural world.
The first quatrain concentrates on the mathematical logic of the scientific process, and the poem details the breakdown of data from the real world as it is arranged and ordered by science. Although there is a sense that the learned astronomer’s ability to arrange the information in this order is impressive, the main emphasis of Whitman’s language suggests that his approach to astronomical data is cramped within a lecture room and even distinct from the astronomical phenomena themselves. Whitman may be suggesting that the lecture makes the speaker “tired and sick” because the manipulation of figures and the sitting in the closed lecture room full of applause is not as meaningful as the contemplation “in perfect silence” of the stars. Because the final three...
(The entire section is 1029 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!