*A poem analysis done for my Senior Utopian/Dystopian Literature course.
“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.”
Very vaguely, yet obviously still, does Whitman connect to the dystopian genre of literature, and dystopian life in general. “When I heard the learn’d astronomer, when the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me…”, I couldn’t understand what I was supposed to be learning. I couldn’t understand when the learn’d astronomer, when this genius of the endless night skies, wasted his breath trying to explain the stars through images, and equations, and MATH. The stars are not about math; this “learn’d” and scholarly astronomer has got it all wrong. He is overthinking one of the most basic interests of the human species. I don’t necessarily want to know exactly and technically why, I just want to be absorbed in the absolute majesty of it all. And you think you can convey this beauty to me through silly drawings on a chalkboard?
Everything about a dystopian universe screams, LISTEN TO THESE FACTS, FIGURES, LOGIC, LOGIC, LOGIC, LOGIC. No one is permitted to think and feel for their human selves. “Truths” are bombarded in their faces, never allowing for any abstract thoughts and ideas, no faith or dreaming of what else there could be. “This is that, and that will always be this.” In the case of Brave New World, higher caste children are taught that babies are made through test tube incubation, and that is that. Wholly ignoring one of the most expressive and beautiful actions of the human’s sexual nature, making love, these sons and daughters of science will never learn to believe in stars, in love. John is the only hope for Huxley’s “brave new world” in terms of opening his peers up to possibility of submission into the night sky.
I don’t want to learn about the stars by way of lecture; that’s not what the stars and the sky are about. Such as life, where the most dystopian idea out there is never being able to dream and think freely. Closing off my perception of the sky is like closing off my belief in God, or another’s belief in soul mates, etc. By creating a reason for everything there is no development, no progress. Yes, some ideas and theories do have answers, answers we can all agree upon (see: 2+2=4). But I don’t want to learn about the stars by way of lecture; I want to learn about the stars by crawling out my window, onto my roof, and gazing. Simply drifting into a comatose, closed off in my mind for a little while. My mind, not yours, and certainly not the learn’d astronomer’s. To drift into my mind, in perfect silence, “in the mystical, moist air”.
My only fear in life is to have this dream state ripped away from me by the government, by skewed public education, by whomever it may be. There is a time for logic, a time for noise, a time for listening, but there is always a time for silence. I believe, while biology and neurosciences help prove much of why we act how we do, introspection succeeds the most in humility and perspective, something any dystopian society’s citizens will never understand as long as they are holed up in a lecture-room, listening to even the most learn’d of astronomers.