Adler Planetarium Astronomy Museum, Art Institute of Chicago
When I Heard the Learn'd 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.
Above is a poem by the American poet, Walt Whitman. Here, the speaker leaves an astronomy lecture to step outside the fixed parameters and subsequently, learns first-hand the beauty in viewing the same firmament of which the lecturer speaks, but viewed simply with the naked eye, in silence. By leaving the lecture, the speaker, with knowledge shared by the astronomer inside, now enjoys the silent beauty with appreciated knowledge, but more importantly, with appreciation of the significance of the stars’ natural state.
This poem illustrates iconic realism in that the subject, constellations in a contrived setting, brings the audience (the speaker in the poem) to a recognition that education of natural phenomena includes the experience of directly connecting humanity with nature.
I warmly thank the Art Institute of Chicago for purchasing a copy of my book, The Theory of Iconic Realism: Understanding the Arts through Cultural Context.