Walt Whitman Moments

Walt Whitman - em Camden, 1891
Walt Whitman - em Camden, 1891 (Photo credit: marcelo noah)

One of the first assignments I ever had in graduate school was a reflection paper on the Walt Whitman poem “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer.” At the time I wondered what this assignment had to do with the world of counseling. It is a simple, short poem about a guy who attends a lecture held by a very scholarly astronomer. In time however, the author grows tired of the academic proofs and figures being bandied about, so much so that he slips out of the lecture hall into the night air to sit in silence and gaze up at the stars. After reading the poem many times, I diligently wrote my paper, but I never quite figured out what this simple poem had to do with graduate school and becoming a licensed professional mental health counselor.

That assignment was for a class back in the summer of 2010. I am half-way through my program now. Each successive school quarter becomes more challenging. My head is filled with facts and figures, scholarly peer-reviewed articles, papers to write and books to read — all from an academic perspective. And I am indeed learning a lot about the field of counseling. So much so, that at times I, like the author of the poem, need to slip out of the lecture halls and gaze in silence at the stars.  Periodically I need what I call  “a Walt Whitman moment.”

This morning I woke up with “assignments due” on my mind, certain that I would have to rush through my ritual “quiet time” and get right to my studies. When this quarter began almost two weeks ago, I vowed that I would “leave the blogs alone”  until June when the quarter draws to a close. I am already chin deep in the most difficult classes to date. Rather than plant myself in front of my window to watch the sun rise while sipping my  coffee and listening to the warbling of birds as they come to life, I chose instead to check my email and blog comments before commencing with the next research paper.

And this is where I had my Walt Whitman moment!  Doris, a regular reader and blogger, left a comment on one of my blogs along with a link to one of her posts. I hesitated to check it out because I had so much work piled up and deadlines looming, but in the end I thought I would quickly take a peek and leave a comment–a courtesy for a blogging friend. And that choice is what led me to ‘slip out of the lecture hall to sit and silently gaze up at the stars’. See the bottom of this post for the link to a breathtaking few minutes. It is a wonderful way to start your day.

Walt Whitman (1819–1892).  Leaves of Grass.  1900.

180. When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer

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;          5
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.

21 thoughts on “Walt Whitman Moments

  1. I’m happy you had a few moments to gaze at some stars, Ms. F!
    Best of luck with the rest of this semester…
    I know all that hard work will pay off in the end!

    1. Excellent! Thanks for stopping by Marge. I feel bad that I haven’t been visiting like I use to, but that day will come again . . . once I’m done with school. I’ll hop over to your place soon to say a proper “hi.” Have a glorious day.

  2. I suspect the assignment was meant to help you think about how we define meaning and where real wisdom comes from–academic gymnastics or by simple looking and listening. I imagine it would be important for a therapist to become truly skilled at both of these–really looking and really listening–not just thinking about it or theorizing about it. The truly learned astronomer goes out and looks at the stars.

    1. Kathy,
      I came to the same conclusion but my reflection paper didn’t sound nearly as eloquent as what you just wrote! At the time I remember thinking it was a silly exercise to remind us to “stop and smell the roses” from time to time. Little did I know that poem would accompany me throughout grad school to remind me not to get so caught up in academia that I forget to savor the very thing that led me to school in the first place.

      I do appreciate your insights. Thanks for stopping by.
      Hugs back,

  3. Good for you that you took a little time out. Probably good too, for your studies.. This was a very enjoyable post.

    1. Thanks Rebekah,
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and yes, it was refreshing to take a time out!
      The studies are getting to me. The video on Doris’s blog was only 3 minutes, but it was a magical three minutes. . .and restful.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  4. It’s good to slip outside and let our mind rest between thoughts and beliefs and discernments and studies. Even when we’re not studying, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the mental world. I am vowing to spend short minutes relaxing into just being many times a day.

    1. Good for you! R and I were having that conversation earlier today. His suggestion was that I add another course to my already overloaded schedule and call it “Life.” It is good to take a walk every day, take time to meditate or pray, spend time daydreaming. Schedule it in to each day and then stick to the schedule! I don’t know about you, but I am fast approaching burn-out. “. . .short minutes relaxing into just being many times a day” sounds like heaven! Think I’ll join you. 🙂

    1. This is a tough quarter . . . Research Methodolgy is about to do me in! But once I’m done with that one, the rest will all be counseling, practicums and fieldwork. 🙂

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