Study Guide

When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer Speaker

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The speaker reminds us a little bit of President Bill Clinton. He's very intelligent (did you know Bill Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar?), but he has the common touch. Bill Clinton got a lot of mileage out of his Arkansas accent. Similarly, we think the speaker plays up his accent quite a bit for dramatic effect and perhaps sympathy. For instance, why does he use contractions like "wander'd" and "look'd"? Unlike "learn'd," these contractions do not change the sound of the words one bit. (Just try pronouncing "wander'd" with less than two syllables). The speaker feels our pain. He knows that math, lectures, and diagrams can be boring as all heck. In fact, they can even make you "tired and sick," though the "sick" part seems like something of an overreaction.

On the other hand, the speaker and Bill Clinton part ways on several points. For one thing, the 42nd president actually liked charts and diagrams, from what we've heard. As in, he read them for fun. (Weird…but strangely reassuring.) For another, the speaker feels most connected to the world when he is alone (which is actually very unusual for a Whitman speaker), while Bill Clinton swims in social life like a fish in water. So, they're not the same person, after all. Still, we think the ex-President and the nature-loving mystic might get on very well. At the very least, they could compare accents!

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