Monday, April 02, 2007

Poem- When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer by Walt Whitman

I am posting this a day early since our schedule tomorrow is off, and I am afraid I will forget to post this because I'll be all discombobulated (I love that word). Walt Whitman it the "poster poet" for this year's Poetry Month, so I thought that one of his poems should be my next choice. This past summer, we spent a day in Washington, DC to attend the 2006 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. We made sure to schedule time into our day so we could make a side-trip to the National Portrait Gallery to see their exhibit One Life: Walt Whitman, a kosmos. The collection included excerpts of Whitman's poetry (scattered throughout), a first printing of Leaves of Grass, Whitman's walking stick, and photos spanning Whitman's life. By far, my favorite part of the exhibit was this photograph (right). It captures the joy, commonality, intellect, and exceptionality of Whitman. It turns out that this was Whitman's favorite photograph of himself. He called it "the Laughing Philosopher" and sent a copy of it to Alfred Lord Tennyson (then poet laureate of England). It is the perfect title.

As homeschoolers, we often find ourselves trying to mimic the government schools so as not to appear "weird" or "unprofessional" or to make ourselves appear like a "real school". Although we have to keep our children's educations on track and make sure that they are receiving an excellent education (which often involves textbooks and schedules), we need to remember that one of the gifts of homeschooling is the flexibility to reveal and dissect the flesh of the subjects behind the textbook pages. Whitman's poem, When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer, caught my attention because it captures the beauty of learning through the ultimate of primary sources. There are some things that cannot be learned in books. They must be experienced in the soul.

When I Heard the Learn'd Astonomer
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 the 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.

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