Walt Whitman was known for being a writer not specifically bound to a specific literary period. He helped to bridge the gap between Transcendentalism and Realism, as well as a gateway out of the Realism writing period as well. Whitman's poem "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer" is a great example of Realism writing. The poem is a single sentence, but it is a very deep poem. The poem begins with Whitman describing a lecture hall filled with applause after an astronomer finishes his lecture (Oliver). The main character found the lecture to be quite boring, and slowly gets up to leave (Oliver). Once outside, the narrator looks up into the vast night sky and realizes, in awe, how huge the universe really is (Oliver). The main character in this story goes through a slight transformation through out the poem. At first, he is very reluctant to listen to the astronomer describing how large the universe was. Upon leaving, however, after viewing the sky and stars first hand, the character becomes very aware of exactly what the astronomer was talking about in his lecture. Realism writing usually shows a connection between nature and man or emphasizes the characters more than the plot, but because this poem was so short, it was not as detailed as many Realism writing selections. The main lesson learned by the character in the poem is that life cannot be taught to a person. Life must be learned first hand to truly understand things. The poem was written in a time in American history where every aspect of society was experiencing changes, and this poem was a direct mirror of what society members were experiencing. Whitman used a technique, that I've found common in realism poetry, of juxtaposing two common places. He compares the closed space of the lecture hall to the vast, open world. Whitman uses those two setting to stress the importance of living life to gain experience, and that nothing can be taught to a person as well as it can be learned.
Oliver, Charles M. "'When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer'."Critical Companion to Walt Whitman: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work, Critical Companion. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin= CCWW573&SingleRecord=True (accessed March 12, 2012).