WALT WHITMAN AND THE LEARNED ASTRONOMER (COMMENT). After the announcement of the experiment which claimed to have found information about what had happened an instant after the Big Bang, I posted here on Walt Whitman’s poem “When I heard the learned astronomer”. When Mary Jane read that post, she expressed surprise that I had made the post. She said that she thinks of the poem as anti-science, and she is sure that I am not anti-science. (Mary Jane is much more of a Whitman fan than I am, but I don’t think that entered into her surprise.)
For me, the Whitman poem expresses my inability to comprehend with my senses what science is telling me. And it is the scale of what it is telling me that can’t be comprehended in the way that the human scale things in my life are comprehended. Tiny slivers of time, billions of years, billions of lightyears as distances…. Whitman captured that. I have the same feelings about the latest announcement about cosmic dust.
When I Heard the Learned 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 and diagrams, to add, divide,
and measure them,
When I sitting heard the 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.