Monday, June 3, 2019

Celebrating Walt Whitman . . .

     Last Friday -- May 31, 2019 -- was the 200th anniversary of the birth of American poet, Walt Whitman and the website of the Academy of American Poets offers poems by Whitman and background information to enrich our celebration.  Here, from his oft-revised-and-expanded Leaves of Grass (Signet Classics, 1960), is a poem -- "When I heard the learn'd astronomer" -- with mention of mathematics.  (Much of Whitman's work is available online here at Project Gutenberg.)

     WHEN I heard the learn'd astronomer
     When the proofs, the figures, were ranged 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,
     'Til rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
     In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
     Looked up in perfect silence at the stars.

I am sorry that Whitman found mathematics and measurement to be opposite to wonder and beauty -- and look forward to the time when all of us will celebrate both views.

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