When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer
by Walt Whitman
When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer Theme of Isolation
The speaker's isolation is self-imposed. His relief on coming out of the lecture room is like that of a person getting off of a crowded bus. The speaker wants to learn about stars, but he's not interested in what society considers "knowledge." When he goes outside, however, he can "wander" wherever he wants. In the end, he really isn't so isolated after all because of the connection he feels with the outside world. But the question remains: can this connection last?
Questions About Isolation
- If you only read the first three lines, would you think that the poem was set in a crowded lecture hall?
- Why is the speaker the only person who doesn't seem to appreciate the lecture? Are the other listeners faking their enthusiasm, or is he just a non-conformist?
- Have you ever really disliked something that everyone else around you seemed to love? What did it feel like? Did you want to leave?
- Why doesn't the speaker feel lonely at the end of the poem? Do you think he will eventually have to return to society?
Chew on This
The speaker's mystical revelation is dependent on his solitude.
The speaker's mystical revelation is not dependent on his solitude. In fact, it points vaguely toward a communal utopia.