Walt Whitman

Start Your Free Trial

Which aspects of Whitman's style in "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer" help communicate the beauty of nature?

Expert Answers info

wordprof eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write1,654 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Science

This small bit of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, eight lines, is a perfect encapsulation of Whitman’s view of nature. The “perfect silence” as he walks in the “mystical moist night-air” contrasts with the drone of the lecturer and the noise of the applause, which made him “sick and tired.” Just as “the charts and diagrams” are contrasted with the actual stars that Whitman sees, but that the lecturer imagines he is measuring, so the outside night air is contrasted with the artificial ambience of the lecture-room. This is how Whitman deals with all human reaction to Nature throughout his book: He acknowledges the activities of Man, his occupations, his travels, his strengths, his foibles, his experiences as a part of civilization (including "charting and measuring"), and then compares it with the sheer, naked beauty of Nature herself; for example, this tribute to Friendship, steeped entirely in natural metaphor:

 “I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing,

All alone stood it, and the moss hung down from the  branches;

Without any companion it grew there, uttering joyous  leaves of dark green,

And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think  of myself”

a tribute to Friendship, steeped entirely in natural metaphor.

 

     Whitman believed (taught?) that while Civilization was to be respected, one should never lose sight of Nature in its perfection.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial